A&E waiting times rise dramatically within just 12 months
WAITING times in Northern Ireland's A&E departments have risen dramatically over the past year, according to new figures.
The number of people waiting more than 12 hours rose from 585 in March 2017 to 3,169 last month.
No patient should wait longer than 12 hours, according to guidelines.
The figures were released by the Department of Health yesterday.
The Health and Social Care Board has apologised for the long waiting times. It said emergency departments had experienced a difficult winter.
"Nobody in the HSC considers this to be an acceptable position and we would apologise to anyone who has had to wait for a long period in an emergency department to be seen, treated, and either admitted to hospital or discharged," it said.
Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs described the statistics as "frightening".
"Only 59.3% of patients attending our major emergency departments in March were treated and discharged, or admitted within four hours of their arrival: a fall of almost 11% on the same period last year and it makes the official target of 95% look like wholly unrealistic wishful thinking," he said.
He added: "This is not a blip, or a short-term problem – our health service is in the midst of its worst ever crisis and it's getting worse with every passing day".
Meanwhile, a survey of the north's A&E consultants has found there are not enough medical and nursing staff to cope with a high number of emergency patients.
More than 70% of the 88 emergency consultants working in the north responded to the survey by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.
Almost all the respondents said they have felt stressed because of an inability to deliver high quality care to patients.
Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan said staff shortages continue to be a major problem in the health service.
"Despite the commitment and dedication of HSC (health and social care) staff who continue to deliver a high standard of care in very challenging circumstances its clear workforce shortages are having an impact," he said.
Mr Sheehan said A&E waiting times were "unacceptable".
"The department needs to step up staff recruitment and retention efforts in the short-term and publish the long-awaited workforce strategy that will plan for a sustainable HSC workforce going forward," he said.
Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said the A&E report should "serve as a wake-up call" to politicians.
"The survey stated some consultants feel ashamed and appalled by the state of emergency medicine here – those parties with the power to form an Executive should be the ones ashamed and appalled, not those working in the system," she said.