A&E delays worsen as wait times exceed 12 hours
Delays in many of the country's A&E departments are getting worse, with almost half of patients waiting for more than 12 hours, a report revealed yesterday.
The percentage waiting for more than 24 hours between 2008 and 2009 also rose from 7pc to 8pc.
The examination of 33 emergency departments found the number of patients handled by medical staff ranged from eight to 30 a day in different hospitals.
A key problem in two-thirds of the emergency departments was the delay in getting access to senior doctors, the report by the Comptroller and Auditor General found.
The findings will come as a blow to the HSE and Department of Health, which have been arguing that overcrowding -- deemed a national emergency in March 2006 -- had eased.
The exam found significant differences in the level of funding devoted to attendances at emergency departments.
The cost of treating patients at emergency departments ranged from €85 to €281 per attendance.
It said the ability to consult specialists in the wider hospital about a patient was "unsatisfactory" in most cases.
Patients in need of tests encountered delays in getting access to diagnostics and the waiting time for a bed was also too long.
It was forced to conclude, however, that the problem of delays had worsened by last year. Current arrangements limit access to diagnostics at night and at weekends.
It pointed out that better grading of emergency patients and routing them through special clinics has the potential to improve efficiency.
The ongoing problem of bed blocking was also identified and pointed to the need for more step-down nursing home beds and improved discharge of patients over weekends.
The pattern appears to be that there is a significant increase in discharge rates on Fridays followed by more admissions than discharges on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Significantly, the report also questioned the accuracy of the HSE's own figures for waiting times and found that over eight consecutive weeks it was under-reported in the Mater Hospital in Dublin which has one of the worst records for overcrowding.
It found the HSE was excluding patients in admission lounges and those who were being monitored for heart rhythms in its calculations.
The report comes as the HSE plans to cut A&E admissions by over 30,000 this year and shut 1,100 beds.
The aim is to divert patients in need of tests and other short-term care to other facilities.
The HSE said it has made significant progress in reducing waiting times and overcrowding since it was established.
Health Minister Mary Harney said the new consultants' contract will mean more senior specialists will be on hand to examine emergency patients.