Online facility to help curb waiting times at A&Es
WAITING times in emergency departments across Northern Ireland will be available to view online in a bid to reduce delays over the winter period.
The new web resource will enable people to view average waiting times across 14 A&Es in the north.
The launch of the online facility comes as it was revealed that £4 million has been allocated from within the health department's annual budget to deal with pressures over the forthcoming winter months.
Health bosses also said there would be a further push towards seven-day care as they attempt to tackle on-going problems that last year saw 3,000 people spend more than 12 hours in an A&E.
Mary Hinds, director of nursing with the Public Health Agency (PHA), said the emergency department waiting times information page will enable people to access average times in each hospital.
"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.
"Also, it is important for the public to be aware that waiting times at emergency departments can change significantly and quickly without warning, and therefore the times given here are not a guarantee of how long you will actually wait."
It was also revealed yesterday that the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and PHA are establishing new localised structures - locality network groups - in each health trust area.
These will bring clinicians, managers, community care and patient representatives together to identify and develop solutions.
HSCB chief executive Valerie Watts said the joined-up approach would "take up the development of the eradication of waiting times across Northern Ireland in emergency departments".
"Clearly there has been significant achievements made for the last few years, indeed the figures for 2011/12, we had approximately 10,000 people who were waiting over 12 hours in emergency departments across Northern Ireland in that year," she said.
"That figure in the last financial year of 2014/15 has now come down to some 3,000 people who were waiting over 12 hours.
"The plan now is for the PHA and the board to take up the task of ensuring that over the next few years that we bring that figure down to absolutely no-one having to wait over 12 hours."
Ms Watts said they had "managed to identify the £4 million we are now allocating towards this particular works stream" to deal with winter pressures.
She added that "every effort was being put in to ensure it does work, but let me stress its not going to be a quick fix".
PHA chief executive Eddie Rooney described the initiative as a "partnership approach" to make best use of the resources within the health and social care system.
"But also new initiatives in terms of linking GPs to a 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 where they have the best chance of recovery," he said.