Irish language activist Linda Ervine has spoken of the cramped and rowdy conditions she witnessed during a 10-hour wait at the Ulster Hospital's emergency department.
Known for her work promoting the Irish language in east Belfast through the Turas project, she said that drunken and abusive behaviour from some of those in the waiting room was shocking.
Commenting on X, she said: “I ended up in severe pain late Friday evening and had to go to A & E around 3am Saturday morning. When I arrived, there was standing room only and the wait time was 10 hours. It’s not a place to be when you’re ill.
“I saw drunks abusing staff and wasting their precious time, people who appeared to be there for the craic and the company, police in and out with prisoners and lots of ill people.
“I heard some people criticising the staff for not doing enough, quickly enough, etc and saw nurses, doctors, receptionists, porters, cleaners who were run off their feet trying to cope in very difficult circumstances.”
Not leaving A&E until after 5pm on Saturday, she said: “It was a very, very long and difficult day which I hope I won’t have to repeat. Unfortunately for the staff, they do it every day.”
Speaking to the Irish News on Monday, she added: “It’s shocking, it really is bad.
“The majority of people that were there were genuinely sick but what was mentioned to me an awful lot is that people can’t get seeing their GP.
“I also thought ‘thank God I took ill over the weekend’ and not in another few weeks time when it’s going to be even worse.
“I would also tell people to avoid A&E if they can. I honestly don’t know how staff cope on a daily basis."
Advice on the South Eastern Trust's website states that the Ulster Hospital's A&E treats people with "a serious injury or life-threatening condition".
Those with a life-threatening condition should still ring 999 or go to their nearest emergency department.
The public are also told not to visit an emergency department as an alternative to their GP, and that calling 999 for an ambulance does not reduce waiting time as patients are seen based on medical need, not who gets to hospital first.
A spokesman for the South Eastern trust said:
"There continues to be pressure across the region in all Emergency Departments.
"The team working in the Emergency Department triages all patients and prioritises those based on their clinical need. This means the most unwell are treated first.
"Staff in our trust work with families and patients to support timely discharge from hospital when they are medically fit to leave, so we can care for those who most need our help.
"The trust has a zero tolerance approach to anyone who abuses our staff. Our staff work tirelessly to help those in need of their care and would request that patients show them the kindness and respect that they deserve."