THE ULSTER Hospital’s A&E performance slumped in the same month its new Emergency Department opened and two Minor Injuries Units (MIUs) closed.

Fewer than one in three of the patients who arrived at the A&E during September were seen within the government target of four hours.

That’s a drop of 15% on the same period last year, and sent the Ulster plummeting to become the worst performing Emergency Department in Northern Ireland.

More than 1,500 people spent more than 12 hours waiting to be seen there, the third highest figure in the province and an increase on 2022.

That all comes despite a substantial fall in the number of patients walking through the doors of the A&E, with 825 fewer people showing up than the year before.

Officials at the local NHS Trust insisted ‘it is inappropriate to compare’ the A&E’s performance in September 2022 with September 2023, as there ‘were so many changes to the Ulster Hospital site’ between the two dates.

In September of this year, health bosses closed MIUs in Bangor and Ards despite a huge public outcry against the move, which was done in part to facilitate a new ‘enhanced’ MIU that opened in the Ulster.

At the same time the Dundonald’s hospital’s new Emergency Department finally made its long-delayed debut. Part of a £280m revamp of the site, it boasts state of the art equipment, new treatment cubicles and a dedicated ambulance arrivals area.

South Eastern Health Trust officials predicted that both the enhanced MIU and the new A&E’s extended waiting area would help tackle issues with waiting times at the Ulster, as they would aid ‘patient flow’ around the hospital.

The enhanced MIU – which is in fact open for two hours less per day than a comparatively little-used pre-existing unit at the Ulster – saw 2,300 patients during September, of whom 95% were dealt with in less than four hours.

Before it was axed, however, Ards MIU consistently saw 100% of its patients within that four-hour target.

A South Eastern Trust spokeswoman stated that ‘increased pressures in Emergency Departments across Northern Ireland are well documented’ but dismissed September’s A&E performance figures.

Last year’s statistics included the pre-existing unit that was replaced by the enhanced MIU, she stated, whereas this year’s figures keep the A&E separate from the Minor Injuries Unit.

“The number of patients attending the Emergency Department, waiting longer than 12 hours, has fallen from 17% to 15% when both the MIU and Emergency Department figures are combined, which in fact is better than the regional average figure [for large 24-hour A&Es],” the spokeswoman said.

“Over 95% of patients attending the new MIU have provided a very positive review.

“Unlike the Ards Minor Injury Unit, ambulances are able to take patients here, when appropriate, which is helping to reduce pressure on the Emergency Department and is also helping to ensure those ambulances are turned around as quickly as possible.

“The South Eastern Trust is very aware that behind every statistic is a patient and their family. Staff work very hard to see patients as quickly as possible, according to clinical priority.

“The Trust continues to help our patients and their families to discharge from hospital as soon as possible, once they are deemed medically fit, in order to ensure anyone attending our Emergency Department can be admitted to a ward, if required. Our team will ensure any service after discharge meets the care needs of patients.”