Ambulances diverted from Accident and Emergency departments six times in six days over Christmas and new year
Ambulances were diverted away from Accident and Emergency departments six times in six days in response to winter pressures, the Irish News has learned.
In one instance an A&E was closed to new patients for 16 hours.
Hospitals trigger the full 999 divert emergency measure when their A&E departments are struggling with patient numbers.
The Health and Social Care Board said there was a nine per cent increase in patients attending A&Es across the north over Christmas compared to last year and in Antrim and Craigavon Hospitals that figure rose to 14 per cent.
The number of patients taken to hospital by ambulance increased by eight per cent and in the case of Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry by 27 per cent, figures from the board show.
Three hospitals went on full 999 divert five times between December 28 and January 2 with ambulances redirected to the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) in Belfast while another declared a 'major incident'.
The Mater and Antrim Hospitals both closed their emergency departments to new patients twice while the Ulster Hospital did so once.
The Mater had the longest diverts of 16 hours and 13 and a half hours. One began at 4pm on December 30 and stayed in place until 8am the following day.
On January 2 winter pressures again led to the Mater diverting ambulances to the RVH from 4.39pm until 6.10am.
Antrim Hospital's A&E was closed to new patients for less than two hours on new year's eve and seven hours on new year's day.
On December 28 the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald triggered a divert at 11pm which lasted four and a half hours.
Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry declared a major incident on January 2 which is the most severe response a hospital can trigger when it is under pressure. The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) said when a hospital declares a major incident it responds as it would to a divert.
On this occasion patients in the Limavady area were taken to the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine rather than to Altnagelvin.
NIAS spokesman John McPoland added that where there is an immediate threat to life "the divert will be overridden and the patient will be taken to the nearest appropriate emergency department".
"In facilitating 'hospital diverts', NIAS assumes additional pressure in terms of longer journey times to and from the hospital which can impact upon our normal response times," Mr McPoland said.
He added: "We are appreciative of the efforts of our staff at all times, but particularly at the times of divert as they can also impact upon their opportunities for availing of rest periods and finishing their shift on time."
The Health and Social Care Board said there is currently "a very high level of demand on urgent care services due to winter illnesses including the norovirus".
"Plans have been put in place across the health and social care system to manage increased demand at this time of year, however, given the extent of the increase in demand, some patients have had to wait more than 12 hours to be admitted to hospital. We fully understand the distress and inconvenience this causes to patients and their families and apologise to them for it."
You can check waiting times at A&E and minor injury units here.
The latest waiting time figures for December 24 to January 2 reveal that 462 patients waited more than 12 hours to be discharged, admitted or transferred from emergency departments. Two thirds of patients were treated within four hours.
Antrim Hospital had the hightest number of patients waiting for 12 hours (165) followed by Ulster Hospital (94). Only nine people waited for that length of time in the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine.
As of 10am today the Mater Hospital was recording the longest wait of three hours and six minutes, followed by South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen at three hours.
The board reminded people that if they do not need urgent medical attention and are suffering from minor cuts, sprains, broken bones, colds, aches and pains, minor burns or scalds to use alternative services such as a pharmacy, minor injuries unit, GP or GP out of hours service.