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Northern Ireland Emergency Care system continues to face significant challenges

26 July 2023

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has called for the Northern Ireland Executive to reconvene and take meaningful action to tackle the crisis in the Urgent and Emergency Care system.

The call comes following the publication of the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority’s report on Royal Victoria Hospital Emergency Department (ED) (part of Belfast Health and Social Care Trust) which found that the ED did not comply with quality standards and that it was operating beyond its core purpose and capacity.

Vice Chair of RCEM Northern Ireland, Dr Michael Perry said:

“The report is another timely reminder that the Emergency Care system across Northern Ireland continues to face significant challenges.

“Emergency Departments experience dangerous overcrowding, lack of cubicle space, queues of ambulances and a long waiting times. All of which affect the quality of care and potentially safety of patients.

“Our members, and all Emergency Medicine staff across Northern Ireland, continue to provide the best standard of care they can, whilst working in extremely challenging conditions.

“Without the policies, resources and support to ensure patients receive the standard of care they deserve, and that clinicians want to provide, improvements will not happen.

“That is why we are calling for the Northern Ireland Executive to be reconvened so that it can implement the five priorities of our #ResuscitateEmergencyCare plan to ensure the situation improves for both patients and staff.”

Emergency Care data show that the median length of time admitted patients spend in Emergency Departments in Northern Ireland waiting for a bed doubled from approximately six-hours to 13-hours between 2018/19 and 2022/23.

In 2018/19, 25,000 patients waited over 12-hours to be assessed in an Emergency Department. In 2022/23 that figure is over 100,000.

Northern Ireland currently has the worst ED performance figures of the four devolved nations, and the rate of death associated with long-waiting times per population in Northern Ireland is twice that of England and five times that of Scotland.

Performance data from January-March 2023 show that the four-hour target stood at 40% in Northern Ireland, far behind that in England which stood at 57%.

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