Consultant Junior doctor SAS doctor Northern Ireland

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Emergency departments struggle to meet patient targets

Northern Ireland’s emergency departments are struggling to cope with demand, the most recent government figures have highlighted.

During March, only 66 per cent of patients were either treated and discharged or admitted within four hours of arriving at emergency departments.

More than 1,021 attendances at emergency care departments waited longer than 12 hours to be either treated and discharged home, or admitted over the same period.

The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety statistics revealed Antrim Area, Causeway and Ulster hospitals performed poorly between January and March this year. The Antrim Area and Causeway hospitals are part of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust.

The figures were published as BMA Northern Ireland finalised its response to a public consultation on the future configuration of emergency department services in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

The Health and Social Care Board is recommending that services should be delivered at Royal Victoria Hospital and Mater Hospital.

Safety concerns

Meanwhile, consultants working in the Antrim Area Hospital emergency department warned the unit was ‘ineffective and unsafe’.

The claim was made in a letter from seven consultants in the department to the hospital's medical director.

In December, Northern Health and Social Care Trust chair Jim Stewart was sacked by health, social services and public safety minister Edwin Poots after targets for Antrim’s emergency department were not met. Experts from England were brought in to support the local team in an attempt to boost the unit's performance.

The trust said a range of measures were being introduced to reduce emergency waiting times, including an acute medical assessment unit for direct admission by GPs.

Originally set up as a pilot scheme, this is a dedicated area in the hospital for patients referred by their GPs for assessment by hospital consultants.

Previously these patients would have been processed through the emergency department.

The trust is also introducing rapid-access medical clinics for GPs to speak to consultants directly or to make referrals.

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