Coronavirus: Lockdown leads to sharp fall in number attending NI hospital emergency departments

A&E attendances have fallenA&E attendances have fallen
A&E attendances have fallen | PA Wire/PA Images
The number of people attending Accident and Emergency departments in Northern Ireland hospitals fell sharply as the coronavirus pandemic began to impact on health services.

The Department of Health (DoH) has published statistics which revealed that during March there were 49,232 attendances at emergency departments here, 22,084 (31%) less than in March 2019 (71,316).

The statistics have led Health Minister Robin Swann to warn that rebuilding health and social care services will be a “massive and long-term undertaking”.

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He stated: “It is well known that attendances at emergency departments (EDs) dropped significantly during the Covid-19 lockdown period.

“Numbers attending EDs have started to climb significantly in recent weeks.

“On one level, this is clearly welcome as it means people who need urgent or emergency care are not staying away from hospital. However, it also points to serious challenges.

“Prior to the pandemic, there was clear evidence that our urgent and emergency care services were under increasing pressure with growing numbers of people experiencing long waits to be seen in crowded emergency departments. Given the continuing need for social distancing, we cannot allow this to happen again.

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“As part of the work to rebuild services and in anticipation of future growing demand, Emergency Departments are developing new ways of working to maintain safety levels and avoid overcrowding in the longer term.

“Next week, I will be publishing a detailed blueprint for the rebuilding of our health and social care system.

“This is a massive and long-term undertaking, given the limitations on capacity due to the ongoing Covid-19 threat.

“We have heard a lot about how social distancing will severely affect the capacity of shops, restaurants and other businesses for months and possibly years.

“This will be even more of a challenge for emergency departments and other health and social care services. There will be no return to business as usual.”