A&E `situation critical' as 12 hour waiting time breached 2,372 times in one month
THE bleak reality of frontline health services pressures has been confirmed with the publication latest A&E waiting times showing the number of patients breaching the absolute target limit of 12 hours almost trebled to 2,372 in December.
According to the Department of Health's own rules, no one should wait more than 12 hours for treatment and 95 per cent of those attending busy Casualty units should be "treated, discharged or admitted" within four hours.
However, due to thousands more patients attending A&Es across the north, by December hard-pressed staff were only managing to process 67.7 per cent within four hours and had breached the 12 hour cap by more than 2,300 patients.
The figure contrasts with December 2016, when 888 patients waited more than 12 hours for treatment.
Last month, there were 3,111 more attendances at emergency departments than the year before.
In the last five years, the overall number of A&E attendances has increased by 24 per cent - with a 78 per cent increase in the most seriously ill patients attending
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine Northern Ireland (RCEM NI) said the situation is now "critical", with staff struggling to cope with intense demands this winter.
Sean McGovern, vice president of RCEM NI said staff "are fighting to keep their heads above water in the most challenging of times" and claims patient safety has been "compromised".
"There is a significant increase in the number of sicker patients presenting at EDs and unacceptable delays in these patients being admitted into hospital and into an appropriate hospital bed," he said.
“Patients and staff deserve better. The perennial pressures on our Emergency Departments is not the fault of our patients or our staff.
"We should be able to plan and adequately care for our growing and ageing population, despite infectious illnesses and despite the time of the year.
"However, insufficient health and social care resources to match patient needs has resulted in compromised patient safety, Emergency Department crowding and declining 12-hour performance on a daily basis. "
The latest figures come a week after Northern Ireland's chief nursing officer, Charlotte McArdle, said the north's emergency departments are "not in crisis", despite one patient being forced to endure a stay of more than two days in A&E over the holiday period.
Calling for "urgent intervention" from the department before the situation deteriorates even further, Mr McGovern paid tribute to staff "who have gone the extra mile in the delivery of care".
There are "considerably longer" waiting lists for elective care in Northern Ireland than Great Britain and the Republic, leading to many ending up in emergency care.
The Health and Social Care Board yesterday admitted it expects "Emergency Departments and other urgent care services will continue to face pressures in the weeks ahead".
It advised members of the public to "only attend hospital Emergency Departments for urgent and life threatening conditions".