Northern Ireland emergency waiting times continue to grow

The number of patients being forced to wait more than 12 hours for treatment at Northern Ireland’s stretched emergency departments continues to grow.

Over 10,000 people had to wait that long at A&Es during the first three months of this year — the highest total ever recorded in Northern Ireland since the Department of Health began publishing quarterly emergency care waiting times, around a decade ago.

The figure was 9,526 last year which was, at the time, the highest number of people forced to wait over 12 hours for treatment in a single quarter in Northern Ireland.

A year ago there were also dire warnings from both health bodies such as the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and from politicians that action needed to be taken.

However, the situation has continued to deteriorate.

UUP health spokesman Roy Beggs said: “I have repeatedly said that our local hospital waiting times would cause outrage and be a scandal if they occurred anywhere else in the United Kingdom, yet absolutely nothing is being done to tackle them.”

The News Letter recently compared data published by health authorities across the UK which revealed a stark disparity between the waiting times endured by patients in Northern Ireland in 2018 and those in Great Britain.

In Scotland, 12-hour waits were recorded on around 3,700 occasions throughout the entirety of 2018.

That is fewer than the 3,931 recorded in January alone this year in Northern Ireland.

The Department of Health has apologised.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, shortly after the figures were released, a spokesperson said: “Clearly, too many patients are waiting too long in our Emergency Departments. We apologise to those patients.

“Colleagues across the Health and Social Care (HSC) system are working very hard to deal with the growing emergency department pressures and to identify areas where improvements can be made.”

The spokesperson said a review of urgent and emergency care is “moving forward” and said a “health service summit on this review is planned for June”, followed by a public consultation on a proposed new model of care.