Emergency department delays worst on record with seriously ill waiting 13 hours for admission

HSE figures show 40% of patients in State wait 12 hours or more for hospital admission

Seriously ill patients have to wait an average of almost 13 hours before they are admitted to hospital, according to new figures that reveal the extent of worsening emergency department delays.

Emergency department waits in the first quarter of this year were the worst on record, with 40 per cent of patients nationally having to wait 12 hours or more to be dealt with.

Last year, more than 90,000 patients had to wait at least 12 hours to be admitted, according to figures provided by the Health Service Executive to Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane.

Patients attending Tallaght University Hospital have the longest waits in the country – an average of 24.5 hours from registration to admission. This figure, for the first three months of the year, is up from the 10.7 hours recorded in 2015.


Three out of every four patients attending Tallaght’s emergency department this year had to wait at least 12 hours to be dealt with.

The hospital said the longer wait times were caused by in increase in patients attending and delays in moving them to wards due to full occupancy. A spokeswoman said it was waiting for the HSE to approve a block with 72 additional beds.

‘Unacceptable delays’

The average emergency department wait so far in 2022 is 12.8 hours, up from 11.2 hours in 2019.

St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny had the best performance in the country, with a wait time of only 2.9 hours this year, the same as in 2015. This figure had dropped to a record low for any hospital of 1.9 hours in 2019, just before the Covid-19 pandemic started.

“Patients are waiting longer than ever for emergency admissions, which is heaping pressure on overcrowded hospitals and overworked staff,” Mr Cullinane pointed out. “These unacceptable delays have consequences for patients and the working conditions of staff, and show that hospitals remain severely under-resourced.”

Nationally, 13 per cent of patients waited between nine and 12 hours, 15 per cent between six and nine hours and less than one-third were admitted within the target time of six hours. Back in 2015, 45 per cent of patients were seen within six hours.

Six-hour target

Only three hospitals managed to shorten wait times since 2015 – Beaumont, Connolly and, slightly, Letterkenny.

Wait times more than doubled over the period in four hospitals – Tallaght, Cavan, Mercy hospital in Cork, and Kerry.

Just two hospitals – Kilkenny and Letterkenny – recorded a patient experience time under the HSE’s official target of six hours. Only nine of the 30 hospitals stayed within this six-hour target at any point since 2015.

Wait times in children’s hospitals are lower than in adult hospitals, but here too delays have increased and there are wide variations between different emergency departments. Earlier this year, the average wait time in Temple Street children’s hospital was 16.1 hours, compared to 9.8 hours in Crumlin and seven hours in the children’s unit at Tallaght.

University Hospital Limerick, despite its reputation as the most overcrowded hospital in the country, ranked mid-table for emergency department waits, with a patient experience time of 13.3 hours this year, up from 12.2 in 2015.

Earlier this week, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly acknowledged emergency departments were under serious pressure and target waiting times not being met. The Minister said he planned to put in place a national plan for emergency departments, but first wanted to identify the supports individual hospitals needed.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.