THE closure of South Belfast’s only accident and emergency unit is continuing to make visitor numbers and waiting times skyrocket at the closest alternative for locals.

The Royal Victoria Hospital on the Falls Road saw the numbers attending A&E increase for the month of December, continuing the trend since the City Hospital A&E unit shut on November 1 “temporarily”.

However, the most noticeable increase, and one causing the most concern for those in need of emergency treatment, is a huge rise in the number of people forced to wait over 12 hours to be seen by medical staff.

Following a surprising initial dip between October and November, with 31 and 29 patients respectively, the effect of the City closure has now been made clear, as December’s figure has been revealed as a whopping 170 people stuck waiting for over half a day in a packed A&E ward.

Meanwhile, according to the Department of Health figures, the numbers waiting less than four hours also dropped, from 72 per cent to 63 per cent.

South Belfast MLA and former Health Minister Michael McGimpsey told the South Belfast News the figures were a “huge disappointment”, especially as so far, Belfast has experienced a mild winter.

“These figures prove the City Hospital’s A&E is sorely missed,” he told the South Belfast News.

“December was a huge disappointment all round, considering the aim is to treat 95 per cent of visitors in under four hours. Staff at the Royal are overwhelmed, and this is in light of a mild winter where there was no virulent strain of flu to noticeably push up numbers.

“What would happen if the Royal A&E was forced to close due to some sort of outbreak, even just for 24 hours to be deep cleaned? Where would that leave people? The Royal’s A&E is also a temporary building and I had stressed that the City shouldn’t have closed until at least the new RVH Critical Care build was complete.”

A spokesperson for the Belfast Health Trust denied any changes in the Royal’s A&E stats was “dramatic”, but added: “At times we do experience additional pressure in our emergency departments, and with our colleagues in other Trusts try to ensure that we provide the best care to acutely ill patients. At this time of year we do have higher attendance, particularly after bank holidays.”