Over 2,000 patients had to revisit A&E in same week
More than 2,000 people went back to Northern Ireland A&Es within a week - suffering from the same complaint - throughout September, according to official figures.
The Department of Health has revealed that an average of 72 people returned to emergency departments (ED) here as unplanned review attendances every day in September.
The figure has raised concerns that patients who are waiting years to see a hospital doctor for painful and debilitating conditions are turning to already overstretched EDs for help instead.
Meanwhile, more than 900 patients waited longer than 12 hours in A&E to be treated and discharged or admitted to hospital in September - an average of 31 people every day.
The ED at Antrim Area Hospital was the worst-performing emergency care unit in Northern Ireland, with 325 12-hour breaches in September.
A leading family doctor said the statistics highlight the difficulties currently facing the health service.
It is believed there are currently 250 consultant vacancies in Northern Ireland hospitals and Dr Tom Black said this is impacting upon waiting times in EDs.
The chair of the British Medical Association's (BMA) Northern Ireland GP committee and deputy chair of the BMA's UK council said: "There is no doubt this is affecting the performance of our A&Es.
"A shortage of consultants will impact upon discharges in the wards, meaning beds are tied up and there is nowhere for patients in A&E to go."
According to the figures, one in six patients who turned up at our struggling A&Es in September were sent there by a GP.
Dr Black continued: "Of course, it could be that a patient's condition gets worse over the week and that is why they need to go back to A&E.
"But it could be that their condition wasn't properly managed in the first place, which is a reflection of the pressures being faced by the health service.
"Patients are now waiting so long for their hospital appointments that many people believe the only way to get the attention of the health service is by turning up at A&E.
"GPs are also referring their patients to A&E.
"It used to be that we were able to send our patients directly to the hospital ward, but of course we can't do that now.
"I am hearing from colleagues who frequently ring hospitals about a patient to be told they have no bed and they should send them to A&E.
"They quite rightly are horrified at the thought of sending an 85-year-old woman with breathing problems to sit in A&E instead of going directly to a respiratory ward."
Alliance health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw said the figures highlight once again the urgent need for a political deal in Northern Ireland.
Ms Bradshaw said patients will continue to suffer in the absence of a working Executive and health minister to take forward the transformation process required to ensure the future of the health service.
The figures, released yesterday, are the latest damning indictment of the state of the Northern Ireland health service.
It comes just days after it was highlighted again that Northern Ireland has the longest waiting times for the likes of outpatient appointments and diagnostic tests in the UK.
It is widely accepted that the goodwill and dedication of staff is the only thing prop ping up a system currently at breaking point.
It is now one year since the publication of the Bengoa Report, which called for urgent changes to the way healthcare is delivered here - but progress has stalled due to the ongoing political vacuum at Stormont.
A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said that according to most recent official figures, there were 115 consultant vacancies in Northern Ireland.