Waiting times at emergency departments continue to rise
FEWER A&E patients are waiting more than 12 hours but overall waiting times are still on the increase, according to new figures.
Just over 2,000 people waited longer than 12 hours in emergency departments across the north in December 2017 - compared to 2,369 in December 2018.
However, A&E units are still falling far short of a government target which states that 95 per cent of patients should be treated and discharged or admitted within four hours.
Between October and December last year, just over two-thirds of emergency patients were treated within four hours - 2.3 per cent less than the same quarter in 2017.
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Government targets state that by March this year, at least 80 per cent of people should begin their treatment within two hours.
But figures from December showed that only 77.7 per cent had begun treatment within that time - 0.4 per cent lower than December 2017.
Last month, 4.2 per cent of people left an A&E department before their treatment had finished.
Average waiting times vary hugely between different hospitals.
Patients attending the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, Co Down, had to wait seven hours, 21 minutes on average last month - compared to an average three-and-a-half-hour wait at Downe Hospital in Downpatrick, Co Down.
Meanwhile, the number of patients attending A&E departments continues to rise.
A&E departments in Northern Ireland saw 202,000 people between October and December last year - a 2.4 per cent increase on the same quarter in 2017.
Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said it was fortunate that this winter's flu strain "is not nearly as virulent as last year's".
"That just serves to demonstrate however, that under the surface the situation may be even worse."
Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said people are still having to wait too long for treatment.
"The evidence is clear," she said.
"We will not be able to tackle waiting times in emergency departments solely through a bit of awareness raising.
"It is essential we recognise a more fundamental reform is required to take the pressure off A&E and improve resources to other points where people can access the health service."