by David Young, PA
Excessive waits in emergency departments in Northern Ireland have decreased this winter despite more people attending for treatment, figures indicate.
The number of patients waiting over 12 hours for discharge, treatment or admission over Christmas and New Year fell by 22% on 12 months ago - from 2,865 to 2,216.
That fall, recorded between December 24 and January 15, came in a period when there was an 8% rise in the number of adults and children attending accident and emergency - 41,960 compared to 38,760 a year earlier.
The statistics were released as the Department of Health announced an extra £3 million in funding to cope with further pressures anticipated during the rest of winter.
The money will be focused on a number of key areas including recruitment of staff for domiciliary care; care package provision for older people with dementia, and procurement of disability and community care equipment.
The department has already allocated £11 million to Health and Social Care trusts to help deal with pressures this winter.
The rise in attendances has been attributed to the increasing number of older people with multiple health problems - often requiring longer in-patient stays and more complex community care packages when they are discharged. The department said mitigation measures put in place by health trusts to cope with the winter months had proved beneficial.
Tribute was also paid to the "commitment and professionalism" of staff.
Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said: "We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to staff for working through these pressures.
"We are sorry that too many patients continue to experience long waits. All feasible steps to ease the pressures are being taken."
The figures also showed:
- The number of adults discharged from hospital increased by 9% this year - 8,864 compared to 8,147.
- Six out of 10 patients were admitted, discharged or transferred within four hours - 25,579 people compared to 21,942 last year.
- The average wait to be admitted to a hospital bed was eight hours and 42 minutes.
- The total average to be seen, treated, and either discharged, admitted or transferred was four hours and 37 minutes.