Northern Ireland news

Number of patients waiting longer than 12 hours in emergency wards rises almost four-fold in space of a year

The number of patients waiting longer than 12 hours to receive treatment at emergency wards has increased almost four-fold in a year
John Monaghan

THE number of people waiting longer than 12 hours to be treated in accident and emergency wards in the north has spiralled.

Details on emergency care waiting times, which show rises in almost every category, were released yesterday by the Department of Health.

Between June 2017 and June 2018, the number of attendances waiting longer than 12 hours increased from 294 to 1,358.

Hospitals dealt with nearly 70,000 emergency patients in June, an increase of just under 3,000 compared to the same month last year.

A total of 95 per cent were triaged within half an hour of arriving, with an average waiting time of eight minutes for an initial assessment.

In the three months to June, almost three-quarters of people were treated and either admitted or discharged within four hours, five per cent lower than in the same quarter last year.

During June, the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald had the longest average waiting time - seven hours 44 minutes - from arrival to admission. The Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast had the shortest wait, at three hours and 52 minutes.

A set of draft ministerial targets state that no patient should ever wait longer than 12 hours, and that 95 per cent of all patients should be either admitted or discharged within four hours.

The latest statistics come as the NI Affairs Committee at Westminster announced an inquiry into whether funding allocated to the Department of Health will be sufficient "to meet the growing pressures on health and social care provision in Northern Ireland".

The committee is inviting written evidence on a series of questions it has posed.

Committee chairman Dr Andrew Murrison MP said: "This has been made all the more difficult with the lack of an executive causing uncertainty over long-term budgets and making future planning difficult."

The former Ulster Unionist leader, Lord Empey, has called for the north's department to be taken over by Westminster "on humanitarian grounds" amidst the current political impasse.

"This can be done and should be done given the dire health statistics which clearly show that everyday people are now coming to harm due to the long waits to see consultants," he said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin West Belfast MLA Pat Sheehan has urged "all relevant authorities and stakeholders to work together" after a BBC report showed people living in the most deprived areas of Belfast and Derry City and Strabane are more likely to die prematurely than in any other part of the UK.

"It is not acceptable that where you live can affect how long you live," said Mr Sheehan.

"Tackling health inequalities meaningfully means addressing inequalities elsewhere in society which impact on people's health outcomes."

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