Almost 10,500 people waited longer than 12 hours in Northern Ireland emergency departments in the first three months of the year.
The number of 12-hour breaches at casualty units across the region in March this year increased by 38.8% compared to March last year, according to official figures.
The statistics have prompted the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) to call for rapid action to ease the intense pressures on emergency departments (EDs). The organisation’s vice president in Northern Ireland, Dr Paul Kerr, said patients are waiting “longer than ever”, which is “an indication the whole system is struggling”.
He continued: “Since January, hospitals and EDs have been under continued pressure. While things have eased from a Covid perspective, we are entering the next phase of recommencing hospital activity and services.
“Demand is increasing, evident by the 26% jump in attendances from February to March 2021. With this jump comes a significant rise in the pressure on staff.
“In March, over one in 12 patients were delayed by more than 12-hours. This is a shocking figure and action is needed to tackle this — these long delays put patient safety at risk, especially with Covid still prevalent in the community.”
Dr Kerr said he is concerned at the fact the figures show an average of 4% of patients left EDs before treatment, equating to nearly 2,000 patients.
He continued: “At one hospital, 10% of patients left before treatment. These patients may be in a serious condition and they have not received the treatment they need. It is unconscionable that we are unable to provide care for everyone.”
Yesterday Northern Ireland recorded 95 new cases and no further deaths related to Covid-19.
Health Minister Robin Swann has repeatedly said he is aware of the pressures facing healthcare staff and the need for further investment and reform of emergency care services.
A number of new ways of working in EDs to prevent overcrowding, including the Phone First service, have been put in place which allow patients to be triaged remotely. A review of urgent and emergency care services in NI has been carried out and the report setting out its findings will be published shortly.