Number of Northern Ireland patients waiting 12 hours in A&E over Christmas triples in 2019
The number of people waiting longer than 12 hours in Northern Ireland's emergency departments over Christmas more than tripled compared to the previous year.
In an unprecedented move, health bosses have released comprehensive figures showing the 12-hour waits in casualty units between December 20 last year and January 3.
The Health & Social Care Board (HSCB) statistics also included figures from the same period the previous year, which highlighted a startling spike in the number of 12-hour emergency department (ED) breaches.
According to the figures, the number of people who waited more than 12 hours over the two-week period increased from 723 to 2,435.
This represents a 237% rise from last year to this, and an average of 173 people waiting on trolleys every day throughout the Christmas fortnight.
Most alarmingly, while the number of 12-hour breaches have rocketed, the number of people attending EDs over the two-week period compared to the same time last year was down by 8%.
However, the HSCB said there had been a 7% increase in the number of patients aged over 65 in the most urgent categories. The figures have been released ahead of today's strike action by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Unison.
Pat Cullen, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said: "It is with great dismay that nursing staff begin the third day of strike action to address unsafe staffing and deliver pay parity back to Northern Ireland.
"Nurses do not want to be standing again on picket lines, losing another day's pay, and feel totally let down that they have been put in this position yet again. Our members are absolutely determined to fight for a health service that patients in Northern Ireland deserve.
"Nurses have shown courage and resilience during this dispute and will continue to do so until we can achieve a system that is fit for purpose."
Ms Cullen said the RCN would not postpone the strike action without written confirmation that the requirements for full funding for pay parity and safe staffing will be met.
She said the next scheduled dates for strike action were January 20, 22 and 24.
And she reiterated calls for the political parties to act to address the crisis.
Thousands of nurses, ward clerks, domestic staff, porters and other healthcare workers will stage strike action across Northern Ireland today.
The second day of strike action this week is expected to cause widespread disruption, with more than 1,800 outpatient appointments and 205 day case and surgical procedures cancelled.
A number of special schools are closed, while some transport services will be affected.
Health bosses have warned there will be a knock-on effect on emergency departments, particularly as a number of minor injury units are closed.
Appointments in GP surgery treatment rooms have been cancelled and some school and baby immunisation programmes have been affected.
Test results may also be delayed, while the Ambulance Service has warned it expects turnaround times for paramedic crews to be affected by the strike action today. Publishing the figures ahead of today's strike action, the HSCB apologised for the delays being experienced by patients seeking emergency treatment.
The statistics showed that, of the 1,714 additional 12-hour breaches this year, 1,052 were aged 65 or over.
The Belfast Telegraph has highlighted a number of cases in recent weeks of seriously ill pensioners spending up to two days on trolleys as there were no beds available in the hospital.
Across the region, for the 15-day period, the average waiting time for those to be seen, treated but not admitted was three hours and 30 minutes.
However, the average waiting time to be admitted to a hospital bed was 11 hours and 45 minutes.
An HSCB spokesman said: "The figures show that, similar to other parts of the UK and Ireland, health and social care services in Northern Ireland have and continue to be under sustained pressure over the holiday period. We would pay tribute to our staff who are working tirelessly to ensure that patients receive the care that they need.
"Health service organisations have repeatedly made it clear that the 2019/20 winter period would again bring serious challenges. Despite the plans in place, some patients have had to wait for unacceptably long periods in emergency departments - for that we sincerely apologise.
"The challenges are in part due to an increase in older, sicker patients attending EDs.
"These patients will often require longer in-patient stays and then more complex social care packages when they are ready to leave hospital.
"The well documented workforce shortages, as well as the impact of flu and the norovirus have also compounded the pressures. All health and social care organisations will continue to work closely to ensure that the most urgent and sickest patients are prioritised."