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‘Our patients deserve better’ says RCEM, as one in six patients face 12 hour waits in A&Es in Northern Ireland

1 November 2023

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has said “our patients deserve better” as the latest A&E performance figures show one in six patients faced a 12 hour wait in A&E between July and September 2023.

Emergency Department performance figures for July – September 2023 (Q2 2023) published today (31 October 2023) by the Department of Health Northern Ireland show:

  • On average, 56,769 people attended major A&Es each month across Q2 2023.
  • July to September 2023 was the worst Q2 on record for 12-hour performance.
    • On average, one in six (16.6%) patients waited more than 12 hours in an A&E.
    • Over Q2 a total of 28,341 people waited longer than 12 hours.
  • On average, more than half of patients (56%) waited longer than four hours to be admitted, treated or discharged.
    • This is a 232.2% increase on Q2 2019.
    • This the second worst Q2 on record for four-hour performance.

Commenting on these data, Vice Chair of RCEM Northern Ireland, Dr Michael Perry said:

“We are seeing appalling waits in A&Es. This is deeply troubling as we head into winter.

“These are people seeking emergency care – and we know it is often the vulnerable, elderly and those presenting with mental health crises that face the longest waits.

“Our patients deserve better. These are long, uncomfortable and often undignified waits in overcrowded A&Es with little to no privacy. It is incredibly sad and difficult to see.

“Staff know this and do all they can to deliver effective care, but the conditions are extremely challenging.

“At the heart of this issue is a lack of adequate capacity, as we are unable to admit patients to a bed in a timely way.

“We welcome the announcement of some increases in bed numbers across Northern Ireland in the winter plan published earlier this month.

“However, these plans must go further. Staff are demoralised and struggling. They want to do what’s right for their patients, but staff overstretching themselves can lead to burnout.

“We urge the Department of Health to adopt our five priorities to #ResuscitateEmergencyCare, with an urgent focus on further increasing bed numbers and implementing measures to retain our hardworking staff.

“What could be an awful winter is fast approaching. Long waits are associated with harm and increased mortality. We cannot allow patient care to slide further and we must not let our patients or our members down.”

The data come following the publication of the winter plan published by the Department of Health Northern Ireland earlier this month which RCEM described as “disappointing”.

Notes to editor

September 2023 was the worst month on record for four-hour performance with only 43.4% of patients waiting four-hours to be treated, admitted or discharged.

October to December (Quarter 1) and January to March (Quarter 4) are usually associated with the worst performance as they make up the coldest months, however, Q2 2023 was worse for four- and 12- hour performance than any Quarter 1 and 4 from 2011-2021.

On average in Q2 (July – September) the median time that admitted patients spent in an Emergency Department was 13 hours 40 minutes. This is six hours and 90 minutes more than the average for Q2 2019.

On average in Q2 (July – September) admitted patients spent nearly four times longer in an Emergency Department than those who were discharged home (3 hours 47 minutes).

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