Northern Ireland news

Warning that health service is in 'freefall'

The latest emergency care waiting times were released today

THERE was a warning today that the health service in Northern Ireland is in "freefall" after new statistics reveal some of the worst emergency care waiting times on record.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) NI said the situation was "the worst it has ever been" with statistics from the Department of Health today revealing that attendances at A&E units are back up and in line with pre-pandemic levels.

Figures from March to January this year show just 47.3 per cent of attendances at A&E services were seen and resulted in a subsequent admission, transfer or discharge within four hours.

The RCEM said this was the "worst quarterly performance on record".

Other 'Emergency Care Waiting Time' statistics reveal the highest number of long waits on record, with 24,304 patients spending 12 hours or more in an A&E department.

In February, 16.3 per cent of attendances spent more than 12 hours in an A&E department - equal to one in every six patients.

Dr Paul Kerr, vice president of the RCEM, said emergency department waiting times in Northern Ireland have become "an appalling state of affairs".

He repeated calls for Stormont leaders to form an Executive and help exhausted health workers struggling to meet demand.

"The emergency care system is continuing to deteriorate, and the emergency admissions process is in crisis," he said.

"Emergency departments and ambulance services are overwhelmed, and this is leading to a patient safety crisis.

"Patients face long waits for an ambulance, long waits outside an emergency department, long waits in an emergency department. Patients in critical condition are not being seen in a timely and effective way.

"It is an appalling state of affairs.

"This situation is the worst it has ever been. We commend staff for their hard work and resilience during this incredibly tough time. All emergency medicine staff are working tirelessly to keep patients safe and continue to deliver the best quality care they can.

"But the current circumstances and challenges mean emergency departments will inevitably struggle to provide optimal care."

He said widespread staffing shortages throughout the health system meant that existing staff are "burnt out, exhausted and facing moral injury and distress daily", which was leading some to consider early retirement or quitting the profession.

Yesterday, the BMA in Northern Ireland, The Royal College of Surgeons of England and The Royal College of General Practitioners issued a statement calling for the formation of a Stormont Executive.

"The health service is in freefall and an Executive would be able to mitigate the crisis and take meaningful action to improve urgent and emergency care and keep patients safe," said Dr Kerr.

Dr Paul Kerr, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine

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