The number of patients who waited more than 12 hours for emergency care has almost doubled over the past year, it has been revealed.
New figures released by the Department of Health show 45,401 patients waited to be seen at emergency care departments for at least 12 hours in 2019/20, compared with 25,326 in 2018/19.
The figures - which were recorded up until the end of March this year before coronavirus hit its peak in Northern Ireland - show that in one emergency department, more than 9,000 patients waited for longer than nine hours.
At Craigavon Area hospital, the figure jumped from 4,609 to 9,356 in just one year.
In the past year, the total number of patients going to emergency departments for treatment has fallen by almost 11,000 from the previous year.
Alliance Party health spokesperson Paul Bradshaw said particular attention needs to be given to emergency care as Northern Ireland moves through and out of the Covid-19 pandemic and as the health and social care sector is reconfigured.
"We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to introduce some radical and innovative changes to ensure that patients receive urgent care and treatment, but through provision that greatly reduces waiting times and excessive burdens on our already over-stretched health care staff," she said.
In 2018/19, 850,522 patients attended emergency departments - a drop from 839,706 in 2019/20.
Meanwhile, no patient waited more than 12 hours at eye casualty, Mid Ulster, Ards, Bangor, South Tyrone and Omagh emergency departments in 2019/2020, the figures reported.
It comes as it was revealed just over six in 10 patients (65.1%) patients on average across all departments can be expected to be seen within four hours after presenting with anything from minor injuries to those needing emergency surgical care.
The ministerial target in the Department of Health is for 95% of patients attending any type of emergency department to be treated and discharged, or admitted within four hours of their arrival.
No patient should wait longer than 12 hours, the targets state.
The department also aimed for at least 80% of patients to have started treatment, following triage, within two hours by March 2020.
At Type 1 emergency departments, which are led by consultants and provide emergency medicine and surgical services over 24 hours, performance against the four-hour waiting time dropped to 59.2% seen within that time frame, compared to 64.7% in 2018/19
These departments make up over four in five of attendances at emergency departments overall, and account for 626,233 of the total 839,706 who visited an emergency department in 2019/20.
At Type 2 departments, which are consultant led but do not provide both emergency medicine and emergency surgical services and/or have time-limited opening hours, performance dropped from 83.8% to 80.2%.
And in Type 3 emergency departments, minor injury units which may be nurse or doctor led, adherence to the four hour target declined marginally, from 99.6% to 99.8%.
Following on from waiting times, 76.7% of patients who went to emergency departments started their treatment within two hours of being triaged.
The Department of Health spokesperson said: "It is clear that the provision of urgent and emergency hospital care will need to change significantly given the ongoing threat from Covid-19.
"Long waits for treatment in packed Emergency Department waiting rooms were not acceptable before the pandemic. This is all the more true now, given the need for social distancing.
"We cannot allow waiting times in emergency departments to go back to pre-Covid-19 levels.”