Department announces additional funding to help with winter pressures

Date published: 18 January 2019

The Department of Health has announced an additional £3m to help health and social care services combat winter pressures.

The extra funding has been finalised following discussions involving health trusts and the Health and Social Care Board.

It will be targeted at 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.

Hospitals across NI are facing ongoing winter pressures, resulting in growing numbers of patients experiencing long waits in Emergency Departments. The situation in EDs reflects wider pressures on the HSC system, involving staffing, community care and bed capacity.

A central factor behind the rising demand for ED care is the increasing numbers of older people with multiple health problems – often requiring longer in-patient stays and more complex community care packages when they are discharged.

Health service organisations have repeatedly made clear that the 2018/19 winter period would again bring serious challenges.

Mitigation measures have been put in place by Trusts to help ease pressures where possible.

Together with the commitment and professionalism of staff, these measures have been beneficial.

Data released today for the period December 24 to January 15 shows hospital EDs performing better than the same period a year ago, despite a rise in attendances and admissions.

Demand for ED care has, however, continued to increase during this month. Trusts are continuing to manage the situation and are working together collaboratively.

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.

“Every one of us can also all do our bit to help staff help us. That means using services appropriately and doing all we can to help stay well.”

The central “stay well” messages are:

* If you are seriously ill or injured, then the Emergency Department is the place to go, however busy the EDs may be. If you attend an ED, you will be assessed – triaged – as quickly as possible, with the most urgent medical cases given the greatest priority.

* if you do not need emergency care, a range of alternative services is available.  These include using the online A-Z symptom checker, seeking advice from a pharmacist, going to a Minor Injury Unit, or contacting a GP or the GP Out of Hours services (if your medical condition can’t wait until the GP surgery reopens).

* The online A-Z symptom checker can be found on NI Direct website.

* Advice on reducing the risk of falls is available on the Health and Social Care website.

Notes to editors: 

Background notes:

1.  The £3m announced today is in addition to over £11m already allocated to HSC trusts for winter resilience in this financial year.

Initiatives taken by Trusts for 2018/19 are detailed on the Health and Social Care website.

In addition, through transformation funding, a range of other initiatives are being taken forward including further development of the provision of acute care at home services.

Looking to the longer-term, the Department of Health has announced a Northern Ireland wide review of urgent and emergency care in hospitals. It will aim to establish a new regional care model, with particular focus on meeting the needs of the rising proportion of older people in our population. The review is an important transformation priority for this year and will be the subject of public consultation.

2.  Hospital data for the period December 24 2018 to January 15 2019 is detailed below, showing increases in ED attendances and admissions, and a 22% decrease in 12 hour breaches (waits of over 12 hours for discharge, admission or treatment).

The data for EDs has been collated by the Health and Social Care Board:

  • The total number of adults and children attending increased by 8% (3200 people) compared to the same period last year (41,960 this year compared to 38,760).
  • The number of adult admissions to hospital was up by 4% (368 people) compared to the same period last year (9153 this year compared to 8785).
  • The number of adults discharged from hospital increased by 9% (717 people) this year (8864 compared to 8147). 
  • 649 fewer patients waited more than 12 hours to be seen, treated and were then either discharged/admitted/transferred from the main Emergency Departments – (2216 this year compared to 2865 last year).
  • 6 out of ten patients were admitted/discharged/transferred within 4hrs (25,579 people compared to 21,942 last year).
  • The average wait to be admitted to a hospital bed was 8 hours and 42 mins; the total average to be seen, treated, and either discharged/admitted/transferred was 4 hours and 37 minutes.

3.  For media queries please contact the Department of Health Press Office team on 028 90520575 or email For out of hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110 and your call will be returned.

4.  Follow us on twitter @healthdpt

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