Number of patients waiting in A&E hits record high in Northern Ireland hospitals

The amount of patients waiting in emergency departments across hospitals in Northern Ireland has hit record numbers.

As of noon on Tuesday, there were 713 people waiting altogether in Accident and Emergency departments across the province.

Of those, 376 were waiting more than 12 hours, while 172 were waiting in Belfast alone.

Over a 24-hour period, there were 1,531 ED attendances overall in Northern Ireland.

Pressures on the health service have been ramping up week by week and according to one senior emergency medic, they are getting worse.

Dr Paul Kerr told UTV that hospitals are facing an "extraordinary winter".

He said: "In Northern Ireland today at this moment there might be 400 patients queueing literally to get into the hospital and that means they're getting inappropriate care, sometimes care is delayed, there's a lack of dignity, they may be in pain, they may be delayed getting pain relief and there may even be difficulty toileting them.

"There is also a risk of cross infection such as from Covid or from flu when you have dozens of trolleys laid up beside each other with patients who are not in a position to wear a mask even."

Contingency measures were put in place before Christmas as the strain across all hospitals intensified.

All trusts announced that patients who are deemed medically fit for discharge must leave hospitals within 48 hours, ambulance handovers at emergency departments must not exceed three hours and space within hospitals, including chairs, were to be used to help with patient flow.

In a joint statement from health chiefs at the time the chief executives said they were expecting pressure on the system to get worse.

“These are not steps that we ever wanted or indeed imagined having to introduce," they said.

"The case for long-term investment and reform to effectively build capacity has been well made.

"Right now, however, we have to use whatever levers are available to us to reduce delays and prioritise patient safety."

Their statement continued: "What we absolutely require is a long-term funding settlement and a health and care system which properly reflects demographic trends and is capable of meeting rising levels of demand.

"In the meantime, we cannot passively accept the status quo, with all that it means for patient care and safety."

But there are fears the pressure will continue to mount and contingency measures have not been effective.

The Royal College Of Emergency Medicine is calling for more staff and beds to help with the crisis.

Dr Kerr said: "The really important thing that makes us really worried is that this is getting worse week on week and we are seeing those numbers rise and in fact since those mitigation measures were announced things have got significantly worse.

"Now one might expect that at this time of year but this is not an ordinary winter."

The pressures are also having a huge impact on staff.

According to the senior doctor, healthcare workers are leaving their shifts in tears after being unable to properly care for their patients.

Meanwhile, the Public Health Agency is urging anyone with symptoms of respiratory infections or a temperature not to go into work to help stop the spread of infection.

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