Northern Ireland

All NI health trusts miss four-hour A&E target

Royal Victoria Hospital A&E sign
Image caption The Health Minister, Edwin Poots, has relaxed special measures in the Belfast Trust

All Northern Ireland's A&E departments could be performing a lot better when it comes to treating patients within four hours, according to a new report.

The report, from the Health and Social Care Board, (HSC) has also highlighted that some emergency departments are performing much better than others.

In a surprise move, the health minister has relaxed the special accountability measures imposed on the Belfast Trust.

Edwin Poots said it was due to the "progress" it had made in A&E care.

The details emerged on Wednesday, as senior health officials gave evidence on A&E performance levels to Stormont's health committee.

Deaths

The HSC report revealed that none of the local emergency departments are meeting the four-hour target for treating patients.

While the Southern and Western Health Trusts are performing a lot better than their counterparts, the Belfast, South Eastern and especially the Northern Trust have performed poorly.

The author of the report, Nursing and Allied Health professionals director, Mary Hinds, admitted the trusts were struggling.

Image caption All NI trusts have succeeded in cutting the number of patients waiting in excess of 12 hours

"It think that trusts sometimes need a target that they can work towards so we have given them some incremental steps - it doesn't replace and doesn't dilute the minister's target but some incremental steps - and the incremental step we have given them is to improve their six-hour performance as well as their four-hour performance."

Giving her evidence to the committee, Catherine Daly from the Department of Health revealed that the minister was relaxing the special measures he imposed on the Belfast Trust in April, following five high-profile deaths at Belfast hospitals.

'Progress'

Those measures included included "enhanced oversight arrangements" by the Department of Health aimed at improving "governance, accountability and performance at the trust".

An Accident & Emergency Improvement Action Group was set up to tackle - among other issues - waiting times at A&E, especially those waiting 12 hours or more for treatment.

Mr Poots' action followed a public outcry over the death of a 77-year-old man who died on a hospital trolley while waiting in the emergency department at the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH).

The family of a cancer patient, who died before being admitted to the RHV's admissions ward in January, also complained about the treatment she received.

The Belfast Trust was also criticised over its handling of the pseudomonas outbreak in January, which claimed the lives of three babies at the Royal Jubilee Maternity's neonatal unit.

However, in a statement on Wednesday, Edwin Poots said: "Over the past months the Belfast trust has made progress in addressing the specific areas of concern and that is why I am confirming today that the arrangements can be relaxed."

Decreased

He added: "The relaxation of special measures does not of course mean that the trust should reduce its focus on improving its quality of services. It is essential that it continues to do so."

Ms Daly told the health committee that the minister's decision had been based on the Belfast Trust's achievement of reducing the number of people waiting more than 12 hours for "unscheduled care".

She said the number had decreased from 171 in April to three in September.

Overall, Ms Hinds' report shows a marked improvement across all trusts in cutting the number of patients waiting in excess of 12 hours.

The Western and Southern Trusts both achieved a "sustained performance" in respect of this target.

The Belfast Trust reduced its 12-hour waits by 67%, the Northern Trust cut its figure by half while the South Eastern Trust achieved a 43% reduction in its breaches of the 12-hour target.

Earlier this week, the BBC revealed that almost all of emergency medicine consultants in the Belfast Health Trust have raised concerns with management about the safety of its A&E departments.

The trust said the consultants' concerns have already been addressed.

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