More than 2,000 people were forced to wait over 12 hours at emergency departments in Northern Ireland last month, by far the highest on record.
That represents nearly treble the number of patients forced to wait such a long time in December 2016, which was itself one of the highest on record.
Figures published by the Department of Health on Thursday show that 2,372 people had to wait at least 12 hours to be treated, admitted or sent home last month, compared to 888 in December 2016.
Going back to December 2009, the first year for which equivalent figures are on record, shows how stark last month’s statistics are.
At that time only 399 people had to wait 12 hours or more. In 2010 the figure increased to 856, and in December 2015 it was back down to 294.
The only year where the number of patients forced to wait over 12 hours came anywhere close to last month’s figure was in December 2011, when it was 995.
Commenting on the figures, the UUP health spokesperson, Roy Beggs MLA, said: “If this were England, heads would roll.”
Mr Beggs also highlighted the percentage of people who had to wait at least four hours at emergency departments here, and contrasted it with figures for England.
NHS England figures for December 2017 are the worst on record in terms of the four-hour waiting time targets.
“The most recent figures show that 77.3% of patients treated at England’s major units were seen within four hours, against a target of 95%,” Mr Beggs said.
“This provoked an immediate and furious response by the country’s most senior medical practitioners and they wrote to the prime minister warning that patients were ‘dying prematurely’ amid ‘intolerable’ safety risks.
“Yet the reality is the situation is many times worse here in Northern Ireland.”
The UUP MLA continued: “Figures just published by the health department here reveal that in December only 63.1% of the most urgent cases were treated or admitted within the four-hour 95% target.
“If doctors are warning that patients are dying in England because their performance has dipped to 77.3%, I am frightened to think what those same doctors would warn about ours.”
Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan, also commenting on the figures, said: “This is not sustainable.
“The pressure on emergency departments and elsewhere in the system must be addressed through the transformation envisaged in Michelle O’Neill’s ‘Delivering Together’ plan.”
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