Patient faces record-busting 49-hour wait in A&E

Almost 1,000 people had to wait more than 12 hours to be dealt with in struggling A&Es in Northern Ireland over the Christmas and New Year period
Brendan Hughes

A PATIENT was forced to endure a stay of more than two days in A&E over the holiday period in one of the worst delays in recent years across the NHS.

The record-busting waiting time has outstripped Northern Ireland's longest wait last year of 40 hours.

Emergency departments in the north have faced a 14 per cent increase in patient numbers this Christmas compared to the same period two years ago.

Almost 1,000 people had to wait more than 12 hours to be dealt with in struggling A&Es, with nearly 200 of them facing waits of more than 24 hours.

Staff and trade unions have expressed serious concern, while health officials have warned of scheduled operations being postponed amid significant staff shortages.

The longest waiting time was finally disclosed by health chiefs after days of repeated requests for information from The Irish News.

The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) initially refused to provide waiting time breakdowns beyond 24 hours, claiming that patients would be "potentially identifiable".

However, it yesterday agreed to disclose the longest wait overall after it was pointed out that several health trusts revealed the same figures for specific hospitals last year.

The worst last January was a pensioner who was forced to wait 40 hours on an A&E trolley in Antrim Area hospital as the troubled unit tackled a big spike in attendances among the elderly.

In the period from Christmas Eve to New Years Day, the longest time spent in an emergency department before admission, transfer or discharge was "around 49 hours", HSCB confirmed.

A HSCB spokeswoman said: "The most clinically urgent patients will be admitted to a hospital bed as soon as possible.

"Unfortunately patients with a lesser clinical priority may have to wait for a longer period of time before other patients can be discharged and a bed becomes available.

"While it is unacceptable for any patient to wait excessively, they continue to be cared for by the emergency department staff, and continue to receive the necessary treatment and diagnostic tests during this time until a suitable bed is identified."

More than 15,600 patients were treated at emergency departments from Christmas Eve to New Years Day – a four per cent increase compared to last year and a 14 per cent surge on 2015/16.

Of these, 928 people had to wait longer than 12 hours to be seen, treated and either discharged or admitted to hospital.

Earlier this week The Irish News revealed how St John ambulance volunteers were drafted in to provide cover at Antrim Area Hospital.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called for power-sharing talks to be resumed immediately, saying: "The crisis in our healthcare system surely must be a basis for dialogue."

He added: "Whether others choose to accept it or not, health is a devolved matter and it demands a response from those of us gifted with political power. That means we must utilise the power we have here to alleviate the pressures on our hospitals and save lives."

The DUP's Peter Weir earlier this week blamed Sinn Féin for the absence of devolved government at Stormont to tackle the health service problems.

"On her first day as health minister Michelle O'Neill stressed the priority she placed on reforming our health service to deliver for patients," he said.

"Today however the former health minister plays the role of a disinterested observer as our health service faces major pressures, and our health service staff work tirelessly to deliver the very best service to the public."

But yesterday Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey said that "successive unionist ministers abysmally failed to grasp the need for transformation when they held the health ministry".

"It was only when Michelle O'Neill became health minister that the process of transforming the service was finally begun. That work can and needs to continue," he said.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access