More doctors but waiting times rise

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DESPITE doubling the number of consultant’s at Craigavon Hospital’s Emergency Department in the past year, there has been a significant rise in the number of people forced to wait more than four hours for treatment.

Figures just released show that 71.3% of more than 6,133 people attending the hospital were treated within the four hour target in December.

This is a significant drop from the 78.1% of the 6,080 treated in October and 75.6% of the 5,996 people treated in November.

One person had to wait more than 12 hours in November.

A Southern Health and Social Care Trust spokesperson attributed the figures to high numbers of very sick, elderly patients attending the hospital in December, describing it as ‘exceptionally busy’.

However there were only 53 more people than in October and 137 more than November.

The Trust appointed four new consultants at various stages between January and May last year. These were new appointments and not replacements for existing vacancies.

At the time of going to press the Trust was unable to access information on the recommended number of consultants for Craigavon Emergency Department.

Over the past three months performance declined in all A&E departments across Northern Ireland, according to figures published by the Health Department.

During December, 71.7% of patients attending Type 1 emergency care departments were either treated and discharged home, or admitted within 4 hours, compared with 88.7% attending Type 2 departments and 100.0% attending Type 3 departments.

Craigavon is a Type 1 department and fared below average for Northern Ireland hospitals in this period.

A Trust spokesperson said: “Craigavon’s Emergency Department is one of the busiest and best performing (for its size) in Northern Ireland, with more than 70,000 people attending here last year.

“From April 2012 until the end of January 2013, an average of 79% of patients were seen within 4 hours of arriving at Craigavon’s Emergency Department and virtually 100% were seen within 12 hours. The average across Trust facilities, during the same time period, was 87% of patients seen within 4 hours, which is among the best performances of any Trust in Northern Ireland.

“The Northern Ireland Assembly Health Committee visited Craigavon’s Emergency Department in June 2012, after a Committee research paper highlighted the strong performance of Southern Trust Emergency Departments.

“There will always be busy times in any year when it is more challenging to achieve waiting time targets, but this is not a sign of any long-term downward trend in performance.

“December 2012 was exceptionally busy with high numbers of very sick, elderly patients attending the Emergency Department for care and treatment. 

“Despite the challenge of treating higher than normal numbers of seriously ill patients during this busy winter period, no patients waited longer than the 12 hour ministerial target in December (nor in October). Nobody has waited longer than 12 hours in 2013.

“Only one patient, in November, waited longer than 12 hours in the Emergency Department, as a result of the hospital quickly becoming exceptionally busy with seriously ill patients.

“Trust staff work very hard to keep waiting times to a minimum and we regret any delays experienced by our patients.

“We will continue to strive to achieve ministerial waiting time targets and we have introduced improvements to reduce the numbers waiting over four hours. Last year, four additional consultants were appointed in the Emergency Department at Craigavon Area Hospital; doubling the number of consultants working here. A group of staff also meets regularly to review and improve patient flows across the hospital and through to discharge.

“We are constantly aiming to ensure that the Emergency Department is operating in the most effective way possible and that’s why we have invested not only in additional staff but also in a range of new initiatives such as the planned introduction of a new mini-laboratory, which will reduce the turnaround time for laboratory investigation by 50%.”

The information release is published on the Departmental website at: http://www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/emergency_care-monthly_waiting_times