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A&E breaches of 12-hour target treble in a year

A big increase in the number of elderly people attending A&E departments has been linked to the rise in delays
Seanín Graham

A PENSIONER was forced to wait almost two days on an A&E trolley in a Northern Ireland hospital in what is believed to be one of worst delays in the entire NHS this year.

The Irish News can reveal the record 40-hour wait took place in Antrim Area hospital in January when the troubled unit tackled a big spike in attendances among the elderly.

It has also emerged that the number of patients stuck for more than 12 hours on trolleys across the north's hospitals has risen by a staggering 230 per cent in just one year - with the Northern Trust worst hit.

Official figures show that 1,815 patients faced delays across all A&E departments units in January, compared with 544 on the same period last year.

Senior Northern trust officials last night attributed the crisis to a significant increase in 'ambulance arrival' patients as well greater numbers of pensioners over the age of 75 requiring treatment.

Official Health and Social Board figures show 501 Northern trust patients endured delays in excess of the maximum target at the beginning of the year (with the vast majority in Antrim Area hospital and the rest at Causeway in Coleraine), compared with 124 on the same period the previous year.

Of this total, 150 A&E patients waited more than 24 hours at the two hospitals sites.

Wendy Magowan, divisional director of medicine and emergency medicine at the Northern trust, described the first two weeks in January as "very challenging" and led to "exceptional" daily briefings with staff.

"There was an increase in attendances in Antrim and a 50 per cent increase in the number of ambulance attendances. The very nature of those attending in ambulances tend to be very sick and require an admittance a hospital bed," she said.

"There was also an increase of those aged 75 and over. Often with these patients, they do have multiple illnesses and do need to go into hospital. When they go into hospital the length of stay can be longer than others as well.

"This is not the standard we would aspire to or be preceding over, absolutely not...but I have to say the staff worked very well together."

The development comes six months after the release of the Bengoa reform report as well as health minister Michelle O’Neill's pledge to tackle waiting lists - with a January deadline set for a radical shake-up. However, due to the political fallout, the plans appear to have stalled.

Garrett Martin, deputy director of the Royal College of Nursing, last night said if urgent reforms weren't made across the hospital and community sector, it was at risk of "spiralling out of control".

Mr Martin said the latest A&E delays reinforced a 'system in crisis'.

"These figures can't just be attributed to winter pressures as we know they are coming each year. I've no doubt the breaches are linked to community care package cuts which are impacting hugely on patient discharges. The pressures facing GP out-of-hours service and district nursing are also leading to more people coming to hospital in the first place.

"Things need to change very soon, not just in emergency care but right across services. Real decisions need to made at political level and in the absence of an Executive and health minister to drive this we will have a system spiralling out of control."

The Health and Social Care Board figures also show 461 breaches of the 12-hour target in the Belfast health trust's A&E units two months ago - with the majority in the Royal Victoria hospital - compared with 128 in January last year.


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