Some patients wait up to six hours to be admitted and a hospital has already had to divert ambulances to other emergency departments.
NIAS Medical Director Dr Nigel Ruddell said: “We bring these patients urgently and ideally we want them to be hospitalized to start receiving their final treatment as quickly as possible.
“If we sometimes wait up to six hours or more outside of a hospital emergency department, it’s clear that treatment is being delayed.
“As far as our staff are concerned, they are constantly worried about other patients in the community who are waiting for an ambulance intervention and this response has been significantly delayed. “
Northern Ireland currently has the UK’s highest COVID infection rate.
The UK Government’s Scoreboard shows that cases took off in Northern Ireland in the first week of November, from around 420 per 100,000 people to just under 600 – an increase of over 40% in fifteen days.
By comparison, the case rate in Wales is currently around 500 per 100,000; in England and Scotland it is still below around 400.
But chief medical officer Sir Michael McBride said there was no single explanation for the increase, although it may be linked to an easing of restrictions.
On October 31 – the night of the Halloween party – ministers authorized the reopening of nightclubs in Northern Ireland and ended social distancing rules that had limited capacity in pubs and restaurants.
A few weeks later and cool work at home tips was released, with ministers urging people to limit their social contact and wear face coverings in crowded or indoor environments.
Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill said on Tuesday the measures were the best chance to avoid further restrictions in the weeks to come.
Meanwhile, a COVID Certificate system for hotel companies is being rolled out next week.
As part of the mandatory certification program, those wishing to access designated sites would be required to present proof of vaccination, a negative result on the lateral flow test, or proof of a coronavirus infection in the past six months.
Non-compliant companies face fines from December 13.
Sir Michael said: “I think it’s always tempting to say [the rise in cases is] to one thing or another, I think it’s to a combination.
“It’s due to a combination of the relaxations at the end of October… and we don’t always follow the advice in terms of keeping our contacts to a minimum, working from home where we can, wearing face coverings and above all, get vaccinated. “
Fewer people are vaccinated in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK, but Stormont’s debate over a vaccination passport program has caused an increase.
About 79% of people over 12 in Northern Ireland received two doses of the vaccine and around 21% received a booster.
In the rest of the UK, 80-82% received two injections and 27-30% received supplemental immunity.
At the Head of the Road pub in County Armagh, they’re preoccupied with politics and say hospitality pays for someone else’s problem.
Owner John Lawson said, “I think we are seen as an easy target. We are the one who is sacrificed all the time and I just don’t understand why.
“They kept giving us restrictions and told us we have to do this, we have to do that, the industry has complied and it’s still not enough.
“So is the problem hospitality or is the problem a health service that is not suited to its purpose?” “
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Health Minister Robin Swann told the Assembly on Monday that some reception venues could be asked to close their doors at Christmas if COVID cases continued to increase.
The case rate in Northern Ireland is tied with Germany and other restrictions have fueled speculation that the same could be happening at home. But comparisons between countries are problematic.
There is a lot more testing in Northern Ireland, for example, and that makes projections more reliable, so authorities insist a lockdown is not inevitable.