The number of patients who had to wait over 12 hours in Causeway Hospital's emergency department in December dropped dramatically, compared to the same month in 2017.
Latest Department of Health figures reveal that 74 people waited over 12 hours from their arrival to discharge of admission in December last year, compared to 190 during the corresponding period the previous year.
The Ulster and Antrim Area hospitals reported the highest number of patients waiting over 12 hours. No major emergency department in Northern Ireland achieved the 12-hour target during December 2018 with performance declining in five, including at Altnagelvin Hospital (67.2%).
During December the Coleraine hospital reported the second best four-hour waiting performance figure of 73.3 %.
Statistics also show that the median waiting time, from arrival at Causeway hospital to admission, in December was six hours and six minutes, compared to eight hours and eight minutes in December 2017. The top performer was the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children (four hours 15 minutes).
Meanwhile those who were discharged home spent two hours and eight minutes in the Coleraine emergency department, compared to two hours and 35 minutes the previous year.
The total number of patients attending Causeway's emergency department rose from 3,655 in December 2017 to 3,791 in December last year.
Province-wide emergency department attendances rose from 65,125 in December 2017 to 66,640 in December last year. More than four per cent left before their treatment was completed.
Statistics show that Monday was the busiest day of the week during December 2018, with the highest number of emergency department attendances arriving between 11am and 11.59am.
Saturday was the least busy day during December 2018, with the highest number of attendances arriving between 12pm and 12.59pm.
Commenting on the figures, UUP Councillor William McCandless said: “Setting targets is meant to propel you forward; they help us to believe in ourselves, but also hold you accountable for failure.
“At the end of the day achieving targets are what set direction and keep us focused. However, consistently failing to achieve your targets tells you that you need to change your strategies, change the way you do things or that you are not getting the resource to do the job.
“Health improvements are being delayed because of the lack of political approval by a Minister and Executive. Immediate action needs to be taken to restore a local Health Minister or introduce Direct Rule before a dangerous crisis engulfs our local Health Service.
“With every passing month our local hospital waiting times are growing. Only 62% of patients at Northern Ireland’s main emergency departments were treated and discharged or admitted within four hours of their arrival against a target of 95%. Compare this with 79% in England and 89% in Scotland and our record appears to be deplorable.
“We have been fortunate that we had a mild December and this winter’s strain of flu is not as virulent as the previous year.”
He added: “Locally, it is very encouraging to read that Causeway Hospital reported the second best four hour waiting performance figure of 73.3%.
“Further stats revealed that the median waiting time from arrival at Causeway Hospital to admission in December 2018 was 6hrs 6 mins, compared to 8hrs 8mins in Dec 2017.”
A Northern Trust spokesperson said: “The Trust serves a population of approximately 450,000, including the highest number of older people in the region, many of whom will have complex medical needs. Despite increased demand and pressure on hospital services, there have been quite significant improvements.
“In December 2018, there was a 4% increase in attendances to ED at Causeway Hospital in comparison to December 2017. Despite this, Causeway ED reported the highest percentage (94.2%) across Northern Ireland of patients commencing treatment within 2 hours of being triaged (assessed by a nurse and their condition categorised according to how serious it is). Causeway Hospital also had the shortest time to start of treatment, with 95% of attendances commencing treatment within 2 hours 6 minutes of being triaged, 1 hour 42 minutes less than the time taken in December 2017 (3 hours 48 minutes).
“In December 2018, 73.3% of patients attending Causeway Hospital ED were either admitted or treated and discharged within the 4 hour target, in comparison to 60.3% in December 2017. There has also been a 61% reduction in the number of people waiting 12 hours to be admitted into the hospital in comparison to the same month last year.
“Causeway Hospital has 160 adult beds that are always in high demand for very sick people. While waiting in the ED for a bed in a ward to become available, patients are still receiving the treatment they require with access to other health professionals as necessary.
“Work is ongoing at the hospital to improve the patient journey from arrival to discharge and to support our staff. This has included the addition of a site coordination system whereby a nominated person is in charge every day to oversee any issues across the hospital to smooth patient flow and a number of initiatives which consider and address any delays for those patients waiting to be safely discharged.
“A Direct Assessment Unit (DAU) has recently been introduced at Causeway Hospital that can provide assessment and treatment for frail elderly patients who otherwise would have required a hospital admission.
“A Minor Injuries Unit (MIU) is available at Mid Ulster Hospital and this is open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays. Staff can assess, diagnose and treat people aged over five years with a number of minor conditions, such as possible broken bones in the lower part of the limbs, minor facial injuries like bruising or broken noses and foreign bodies in the eyes/ears/nose. If someone is unsure if they should attend the MIU, please contact staff for advice on 028 7936 6720.
“In addition, a large amount of work has also taken place across the community to help people, particularly those who are elderly and frail, to avoid having to be come to hospital for treatment and possible admission. This includes Our Nursing Home REaCH Team that works with residents, their families and staff in 57 homes, helping to make sure care is centred on the needs of each individual resident and offered within the comfort of the care home, if suitable. These measures help keep hospital beds available for those who need them.
“Our dedicated staff are very skilled at working efficiently with the resources available and are committed to delivering the best possible care. We thank them for all their hard work for our patients.
“The public can play their part in supporting us by always choosing the most appropriate service depending on the ailment. If you feel that your condition needs urgent attention, please always come to ED. If you are unsure, your GP surgery or the GP out of hours service is always available for advice. Remember, a pharmacist can also give advice and treat minor ailments. You could also use the NI Direct Symptom Checker www.nidirect.gov.uk/services/health-conditions-a-z.
“Pressure on services can be reduced by taking precautions and planning for your health needs over winter. This includes having supplies in the house such as pain relief, plasters and antiseptic cream, ordering repeat prescriptions in advance so you don’t run out and getting the flu vaccine if eligible.”
More information on Stay Well is available at www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/stay-well.
“During bad weather, please help protect your health by keeping warm, having extra supplies of food and water available for emergencies and taking measures to prevent falls,” added the Trust spokesperson.