Belfast Telegraph

'Worst ever' A&E wait times prompt winter crisis fears

Uphill battle: Dr Ian Crawford
Uphill battle: Dr Ian Crawford

By Mairead Holland

The health service in Northern Ireland is "lurching towards a major winter crisis", an Ulster Unionist MLA has warned.

Roy Beggs, who represents East Antrim, was responding to the latest figures on the province's 10 emergency departments (EDs).

They reveal that the number of patients waiting longer than 12 hours has more than doubled in the past year.

Last month there were 2,835 patients waiting for this time period compared to 1,365 in June 2018.

The Government target is for no one to wait for more than 12 hours.

Another key target was also missed last month, with just 67% of patients treated and discharged or admitted within four hours - well below the target of 95%.

The figures are included in a bulletin published yesterday by the Department of Health.

Mr Beggs has urged the new Secretary of State Julian Smith to ditch the policy of his predecessor Karen Bradley and intervene directly.

"This is not a blip, or a short-term problem - our health service is in the midst of its worst ever waiting times crisis and it's getting worse with every passing day," he said.

"People are coming to harm because they can't get the right type of treatment when they need it. The fact that more than 2,800 patients in June had to wait longer than 12 hours is frightening not only in its scale, but also due to the fact that June should be traditionally one of the most quiet months in the year for the local health service."

Dr Ian Crawford, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Northern Ireland, said the figures reveal the "continued strain" faced by emergency departments.

He said staff "are fighting an uphill battle to provide excellent care to our patients in the face of increasing demand and reduced capacity in our hospitals".

"Those leading the review of urgent and emergency care must learn the lessons from other parts of the UK," he said.

"Initiatives aimed at directing people away from emergency departments do not address increasing demand and the needs of our growing and ageing population.

"To ease pressure placed on emergency departments, we need to build capacity through increasing staffing, the number of acute hospital beds, and the social care that are fundamentally required."

Paula Bradshaw MLA, the Alliance Party's health spokesperson, said she was "very concerned" by the figures which "stem from a range of issues... the primary one being workforce pressures".

She added: "Having spoken to medical professionals working in emergency departments across Northern Ireland, I am aware of their grave concerns as to the volume of vacancies, patients presenting, and their ability to cope with demand."

In total, more than 70,000 people attended the province's emergency departments last month.

Craigavon Area Hospital recorded the worst figures for people waiting more than 12 hours, with 609 patients, compared to 267 in June 2018.

This was followed by the Ulster with 589 waits, a slight increase from 550 the previous June; and the Royal Victoria with 476, more than four times the number last June when there were 112.

The Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) was the busiest in June with 8,339 attendances, followed closely by the Ulster at 8,337, Antrim Area at 7,573 and Craigavon with 7,194.

The RVH had the most number of people - 3,971 - waiting more than four hours.

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