Web tool in bid to curb waiting times in emergency departments
Live waiting times in emergency departments across Northern Ireland are being made available on-line as part of a major bid to reduce treatment delays over the winter.
The webpage will enable people to check the current average A&E waiting time and also access information on alternative care options.
The on-line tool is one of a number of initiatives being rolled out by health authorities as they strive to address an on-going problem that last year saw 3,000 people spend more than 12 hours in an emergency department.
The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and Public Health Agency (PHA) are also establishing new localised structures (locality network groups) in each health trust area that will bring clinicians, managers, community care and patient representatives together to identify and develop solutions.
Around £4 million is being allocated from within the Health Department's annual budget to tackle the waiting time issue over the winter months.
As well as a push to provide more services on a 24/7 basis, efforts are being made to enhance alternative treatment options away from emergency department settings
Valerie Watts, chief executive of the HSCB, said recent moves to decrease the number of 12 hour-plus waits had already produced results, noting that the total was 10,000 in 2011/12.
"The plan now is for the PHA and the Board to take up the task of ensuring over the next few years that we bring that figure down to absolutely no one having to wait over 12 hours," she said.
Eddie Rooney, chief executive of the PHA, said a "partnership approach" was at the heart of the strategy.
"It involves making sure we make the best use of the expertise and resources that are sitting within the health and social care system," he said.
"But also new initiatives in terms of linking in GPs to the community to make sure that as few people as possible who don't want and don't need to come into emergency departments that they are treated at home."
He added: "It really is a partnership approach that affects right at the heart of services, as well as the heart of the community."
Mary Hinds, director of nursing with the PHA, explained how the new website worked.
"The waiting time information is updated hourly and shows the average waiting time to be treated by a doctor or nurse," she said.
"All patients will already have been triaged by staff on arrival, so the time shown is for treatment not assessment."
Ms Hinds cautioned that the nature of patient in-take into A&E meant times can change significantly at short notice.
The times are currently available for all main emergency departments in Northern Ireland.
Waiting times for the minor injuries units at the Mid Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt and the Tyrone County in Omagh are not currently available but work to migrate their recording systems onto the on-line facility is planned.
Maeve Hully from Patient and Client Council said she was delighted the information was now available to the public.
"Accurate information, particularly around waiting times is important to people and is essential for making informed choices about accessing emergency care," she said.
The health authorities have stressed that people in need of serious medical attention should always ring 999 or go directly to their nearest emergency department.
The website can be found at www.nidirect.gov.uk/emergency-department-average-waiting-times.