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NI Health service on verge of collapse as Health organisations urge representatives to form an Executive and tackle crisis

13 May 2022

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

“The Emergency Care system is continuing to deteriorate, and the Emergency Admissions process is in crisis. 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.

“There are widespread staffing shortages throughout the health system, and existing staff are burnt out, exhausted, and facing moral injury and distress daily – leading to some considering early retirement or quitting the profession.

“Yesterday, together with The British Medical Association Northern Ireland, The Royal College of Surgeons of England, The Royal College of General Practitioners’ and The Royal College of Nursing, we issued a statement urging representatives in Northern Ireland to form an 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.

“In Emergency Care we must see the recruitment and retention of staff across all grades. It is also vital that more beds are opened to increase flow throughout the hospital. Lastly, good social care underpins an effective health service, it can help free up beds, prevent recurring trips to the Emergency Department, and ensure timely discharge. It is critical that the crisis in social care is addressed as part of any plan to tackle the Urgent and Emergency Care crisis.”

Notes to editor

The latest Emergency Care Waiting Times Statistics for Q4 2021/22 (January 2022 – March 2022) published by the Department of Health Northern Ireland show:

  • There were 157,953 attendances at Type 1 A&E services in Northern Ireland. Attendances are back up and in line with pre pandemic levels.
  • Only 47.3% of attendances at A&E services were seen and resulted in a subsequent admission, transfer or discharge within 4 hours – the worst Quarterly performance on record.
  • Similarly, Q4 saw the highest number of long waits on record with 24,304 patients spending 12 hours or more in an A&E department.
  • In February 2022, 16.3% of attendances spent more than 12 hours in an A&E department, – this is equal to one in every six patients.
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