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NI government must take meaningful action to tackle Emergency Care Crisis

27 July 2022

Responding to the latest Emergency Care Waiting Time Statistics (April – June 2022) published by the Department of Health Northern Ireland, Vice President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Northern Ireland, Dr Paul Kerr said:

“The situation in Emergency Care is extremely challenging, and the pressures staff face mean we are not providing optimal care to patients. To see these figures in the middle of summer makes for grim reading and causes serious apprehension for what is to come as we approach winter.

“The difficulty in discharging patients from hospital is causing exit block, where patients are unable to move through the system in a timely way. Our Emergency Departments are dangerously crowded with patients facing excessively long waiting times, these queues extend outside the Emergency Department with our paramedic colleagues queueing in ambulances for hours with patients. Leaving vital ambulance crews unable to respond to urgent and emergency calls in the community.

“Emergency Medicine staff and our paramedic colleagues face stress, distress and moral injury daily in this crisis. It is extremely difficult. Many staff are burned out and exhausted. They recognise the frustration that patients feel given these long waiting times. The data show waiting times to be seen are dramatically increasing, and the sickest patients face the longest waits.

“The government must prioritise tackling this crisis. Patients are suffering and coming to harm and staff are overwhelmed. We must see action to tackle exit block and improve flow. The first step is to recruit and retain staff in the social care workforce and ensuring they are valued and respected – adequate social care staffing will help the vulnerable patients be discharged in a timely way, freeing up beds elsewhere in the system. Too many shifts have too few staff, it is unsustainable, and we urgently need a long-term NHS workforce plan in Northern Ireland that ensures the retention of existing staff while recruiting more staff. We must see meaningful action from the government to tackle this crisis, especially ahead of the winter months.”

Notes to editor

The latest Emergency Care Waiting Times Statistics for Q1 2022/23 (April 2022 – June 2022) published by the Department of Health Northern Ireland show:

In Quarter 1 (April – June) 2022:

  • There were 166,170 attendances at Type 1 (Major EDs) A&E services in Northern Ireland. Attendances are back up and in line with pre pandemic levels.
  • In June 2022 only 45.7% of attendances at A&E services were seen and resulted in a subsequent admission, transfer or discharge within four-hours; this is the worst performance on record.
  • Similarly, Q1 saw almost 24,000 patients spending 12-hours or more in an A&E department, this represents an increase of 68% when compared to the number of long waits during the same Quarter last year.
  • During Q1 2022 one in every seven patients was delayed in an Emergency Department by 12-hours or more.
  • Admitted patients are on average spending three hours longer in A&E than they were last year, while the non-admitted patient is spending only 30 mins more. This would indicate that the system is failing the sickest patients the most.
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