The Emergency Department at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) was so busy during periods last week that the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) asked patients to only attend if it was urgent or life threatening.

On Thursday, November 14 there was a six hour waiting time at the department in Enniskillen with the Health and Social Care Board releasing a statement saying figures showed that Emergency Departments across Northern Ireland continue to be extremely busy due to increased attendances and an increase in the number of older, sicker people with complex conditions attending and being admitted.

Between November 3 and 11, 226 people waited over 12 hours from arrival in Emergency Departments to either being admitted to a hospital bed or being discharged from hospitals in the Western Trust area. The longest wait in that period was 45 hours. As of Wednesday, the waiting time to be seen at the SWAH was 141 minutes.

The statement said: “We expect this situation to continue throughout this winter and have put in place a number of initiatives to increase the support available in community settings. However, despite the measures currently in place, some people are waiting longer in EDs than is acceptable.”

Claire Fleming was in the Emergency Department at the SWAH on Thursday night from 9.45pm to 4.30am with her daughter who was being seen for a head injury.

She described the department as “bunged”.

“We had phoned the Out of Hours doctor first of all and they advised us to go up to A&E. Now quite a few other people we were chatting to while we were waiting all that time had the same experience. Rang the out of hours and were told to go up to A&E.

“When we got there it was absolutely bunged with people and there were ambulances coming and going all night long.”

Claire says that those nurses and doctors on duty were doing the best they could to see people but they seemed short staffed to deal with the high volume of people.

She said her daughter was told it could be a four or five hour wait but information on a screen in the department said the waiting time was two hours and this could have caused some confusion to those waiting.

Claire also questioned if the Out of Hours doctors could have seen to her daughter rather than sending her to A&E.

“They wanted her to check all her reflexes but at the same time I think they could have done that.

“When they saw her first in A&E they sort of said maybe the doctor in Out of Hours could take a look at her but nothing came of that. From what other people were saying you know it was thing a doctor in Out of Hours could have checked but they were all being sent to A&E.”

The HSCB said: “All Trust have Winter Resilience Plans in place which focus on providing alternatives to hospital admissions in appropriate settings; ensuring patients can leave hospital quickly when they are clinically fit; and improving ambulance turnaround times at Emergency Departments.

“In addition to alleviate pressure on GP services, we are offering consultations in private areas with community pharmacists for those suffering from cold, sore throats and flu-like symptoms.

“These conditions are more prevalent in the winter and last year, over 21,000 such consultations were offered, freeing up 10,000 GP appointments.”