Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland A&E waiting times 'critical': Thousands more attending - 167% jump in those waiting 12 hours

By Jonathan Bell

Thousands more people are attending Northern Ireland A&Es and there has been 167% spike in those needing care and having to wait over 12 hours.

A leading health professional said the latest government statistics showed the situation was "critical".

Department of Health figures show in December there were over 65,000 people attending the emergency department of all of Northern Ireland's hospitals. That was over 3,000 more, or 5%, on the previous December. Over 80% of those were for type one A&Es which handle the most serious of cases.

In that one month 2,372 waited for over 12 hours. That was compared to 888 in the same month in 2016, representing a 167% spike.

On average each patient faced over six-and-a-half hours in the departments. And one in six were there on the orders of their GP.

During December 2017, the Causeway Hospital reported the longest median time spent in an Emergency Department of 8 hours and 18 minutes from arrival to admission to a ward, while the Children's Hospital at the Royal had the shortest at 3 hours 38 minutes.

Monday was reported as the busiest day with Sundays the quietest.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine Northern Ireland (RCEM NI) said staff were struggling to cope with intense demands this winter and “fighting to keep their heads above water”.

Have you faced a long wait in A&E? Contact  02890 264428 and speak to our reporter Victoria Leonard.

Sean McGovern, vice president of RCEM NI, said: “Today’s figures speak for themselves – the situation is critical.

"Patients and staff deserve better. The perennial pressures on our emergency departments is not the fault of our patients or our staff. We should be able to plan and adequately care for our growing and ageing population, despite infectious illnesses and despite the time of the year.

"However, insufficient health and social care resources to match patient needs has resulted in compromised patient safety, emergency department crowding and declining 12-hour performance on a daily basis."

He continued: "Staffing emergency departments safely with the correct numbers of medical, nursing, allied health professionals and support staff has been extremely challenging. RCEM NI commends the resilience of the staff who have gone the extra mile in the delivery of care.”

Mr McGovern said it urgent intervention was needed to prevent the situation deteriorating. He said that challenges in Northern Ireland mirrored those in the rest of the UK and Republic but "significantly" there were longer waiting lists and a lack of political leadership to make decisions.

“To provide safe and high-quality care for all patients we need short and long-term plans," he added.

"We need more capacity in the entire health and social care system, including more social care beds, more social care staff, more nurses and more doctors. Transformation must be translated from word into action. To achieve all this, we must act now.”

The Health and Social Care Board said seasonal flu, respiratory conditions, the norovirus and staff sickness contributed to the increases in waiting times.

"Regrettably, this means more people waited over 12 hours to be seen, treated and either discharged or admitted to hospital in the quarter, compared with the same period in 2016 as staff continued to prioritise the most clinically urgent patients," it said in a statement.

"We would like to thank all the staff right across health and social care – in primary care, in hospitals and in the community, who continue to show the highest levels of dedication and professionalism in caring for patients."

The statement continued: "Ensuring access to high quality emergency care remains a key priority for the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and the wider Health and Social care system. The long-term answer to the pressures we are facing in Emergency Departments, and throughout primary, secondary and community care, will only come through continuing to reform our services.

"There is a significant amount of work by ongoing by HSC staff right across the entire Health and Social Care system to enhance access to urgent and emergency care services. We are introducing new ways to care for people closer to home (for example hospital at home initiatives), but we need to continue to reform the system in 2018 at pace and scale."

The board said the public should only attend emergency departments for urgent or life-threatening conditions and consider a range of different services.




We would ask the public only to attend hospital Emergency Departments for urgent and life threatening conditions only. There are a range of alternative services that people can access if they do not need emergency care. These include using the online A-Z symptom checker, (, seeking advice from a pharmacist, going to a Minor Injury Unit, or contacting a GP or the GP Out of Hours services (if their medical condition can’t wait until the GP surgery reopens). People can also check online for the average waiting times in their local Emergency Department.

The Department for Health has also been asked for a comment.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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