Stay away unless it's urgent, patients told as hospital units struggle to cope
Patients with non-urgent illness in the Northern Health Trust area were urged to stay away from Emergency Departments (EDs) yesterday as waiting times soared over the weekend.
Updates were posted on social media yesterday and on Sunday, warning that EDs in both the Antrim Area and Causeway hospitals were "extremely busy" and that patients should only attend if their condition was "urgent or life-threatening".
Waiting times posted on the NI Direct website yesterday afternoon showed a 222-minute average wait - almost four hours - to be seen at the Causeway and 176 minutes at Antrim.
Commenting on the Northern Trust's Facebook page, one woman said: "Must have been the worst I've seen last night in Antrim. Staff rushed off their feet. Trolleys everywhere and nowhere to go."
In the Southern Health Trust, there was a wait of 158 minutes at Craigavon Area Hospital and 66 minutes in Daisy Hill.
The Western Trust saw an average wait of 115 minutes at Altnagelvin and 75 minutes at the South West Acute Hospital.
In the Belfast Trust, the Royal Children's Hospital had a waiting time of 74 minutes, the Mater reported 47 minutes and the Royal Victoria Hospital wait was 36 minutes.
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The South Eastern Trust showed waiting times of 65 minutes at Lagan Valley Hospital, 52 minutes at the Ulster Hospital and 45 minutes at the Downe Hospital.
A spokesperson for the Northern Trust said recent challenges were due to continuing rising attendances at Emergency Departments. Antrim Area Hospital and Causeway Hospital reported the largest increases in attendances in September compared with last September, they said.
"There has also been an increase in the number of older, sicker people with complex conditions attending and being admitted to hospital," they added.
The spokesperson said it was important that people understand the best way to seek help and ease pressure on limited services.
"If you are seriously ill or injured, then the Emergency Department is the place to go, no matter how busy it may be. If you attend an ED, you will be assessed, triaged, as quickly as possible, with the most urgent medical cases given the greatest priority. If you are not assessed as urgent you may have to wait for a lengthy period."
The Northern Trust spokesperson added: "Our staff are committed to delivering the best possible care for our patients and we are grateful for their continued commitment to patient care."
Last month concerns were raised about the lack of extra funding to be made available for EDs during the busy winter period.
Department of Health statistics show the number of patients waiting over 12 hours in Northern Ireland EDs doubled from 1,714 in September 2018 to 3,482 in September 2019. No patient should have to wait more than 12 hours to be seen, according to official targets.
Dr Ian Crawford, vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said at the time it was "simply impossible" to expect staff to do more with less each year.