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‘Urgent change’ needed to tackle worst Emergency Department waiting times on record  in Northern Ireland

Thursday 25 April 2024

Work must be done to improve discharge speed in hospitals if “dire” Emergency Department waiting times in Northern Ireland are to improve.

This is the response from The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) as the latest Emergency Care performance figures reveal one in five patients are waiting more than 12 hours to be seen in Emergency Departments in Northern Ireland.

The data, released today (Thursday 25 April) by The Department of Health covering January to March 2024, reveals waiting times are the longest since records began in 2011.

This is despite a decrease in the number of attendances at Emergency Departments (A 5.7% decrease compared to late 2023 and a 14.3% decrease compared to the same period in 2022.)

The figures come just days after Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann announced he will step down from his Stormont role once campaigning for the General Election begins as he is standing for election to the Westminster parliament as the Ulster Unionist Party candidate for South Antrim.

Dr Russell McLaughlin, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s Vice President for Northern Ireland said: “These figures are truly dire and reveal the pressure faced daily by dedicated Emergency Care staff in Northern Ireland.

“The fact that a reduction in Emergency Department attendances has made no impact on waiting times shows the root cause lies within the hospital system. Patients cannot be sent home even when they are well enough, as there are not enough adequate social care options in place. This means valuable beds are being withheld from the people that most need them.

“This simply should not be happening. Substantive change from health leaders is needed to address this issue which is hugely frustrating and upsetting for both patients and staff.

“The solution is clear. Stormont must commit to following our recommendation of increasing the number of Emergency Care doctors, as well as providing more hospital beds and improved social care provisions.”

Referencing Mr Swann’s announcement, Dr McLaughlin said: “Were sorry to hear that the current health minister will be stepping down. We hope his successor will continue to work with us to #ResuscitateEmergencyCare and give the people of Northern Ireland the health care they deserve.”

The data released today also shows:

  • The average waiting time for people in Emergency Departments between January and March was just under 16 hours. More than three times longer than the time spent by discharged patients.
  • Only 37.4% of people attending Emergency Departments were seen in less than four hours.

Graphs illustrating the data can be found here. The full data set can be seen here.

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