Wednesday, August 17, 2022


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THE NUMBER of people attending the Ulster Hospital’s A&E department shot up last year, making the hospital so busy that only around half were seen within government target times. According to newly released statistics, 110,000 people went to the Ulster’s emergency department during the 2021-22 financial year. That’s not only a large increase on the previous year, when repeated lockdowns kept attendances unusually low, it’s also the highest number in the last five years by a considerable margin – roughly a 10% increase on the previous table-topping figure. But as a result of the high number of patients, the department failed to meet NHS waiting time targets. Only a little over half of patients were seen within the government mandated four hours, a five-year low for the A&E, while 14,800 people were forced to wait for more than 12 hours – a five-year high. It’s commonly theorised that the reduction in GP services caused by Covid, which is still in place, has resulted in many more people than usual heading to emergency wards. Large A&E departments across Northern Ireland have struggled to cope with their increased patient numbers, causing delays for the public as doctors try to get round everyone packed into busy waiting rooms. Overall the South Eastern Health Trust, which oversees the Ulster Hospital, in fact proved to be one of the best performing of the province’s five trusts. Averaging out all of its hospitals, the South Eastern Trust had the highest number of patients seen within four hours, 60%, and was the only trust to hit the NHS target of starting treatment for 80% of people within two hours of triage. That’s largely due to the performance of Lagan Valley Hospital’s A&E and Ards Hospital’s Minor Injuries Unit. Both of those facilities see a fraction of the numbers attending the Ulster, around a quarter and one-tenth respectively, while neither is hitting a five-year high in their patient loads. As a result, both of those facilities have much better performance statistics including substantially shorter waiting times. In Ards MIU, for example, all but one person was seen within four hours of arriving, while in Lagan Valley only 28 patients had to wait more than 12 hours.

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