The claims were made by Dr Tony Stevens, medical director of the Belfast Health Trust which runs the RVH, in a radio interview on Tuesday morning."Specifically, in terms of a contributory factor from people waiting longer than we would like them to be seen, we believe last year five patients in the Royal," he told the BBC.Health Minister Edwin Poots faced questions at Stormont on Tuesday afternoon about last month's emergency at the Royal's A&E ward.The DUP minister, who said he had only just learned about the five deaths, fended off claims from the SDLP of a possible cover up.Health Minister Edwin Poots says he learned this morning of the five RVH deaths in the past 12 months due to a lack of staff on the radio.— Ken Reid (@KenReid_utv) February 11, 2014Mr Poots added that the five people who died had been seriously ill, and said he has asked his officials to identify areas of concern.He explained: "The five people died because they were seriously unwell."There is a serious adverse incident report that was compiled and that will identify that there is a possibility that not all five would have died but we don't know at this stage. These were very sick patients, very complex cases so these patients may have passed away in any case."It comes after the initial findings of a report from health watchdog the Regulation Quality and Improvement Authority into the incident on 8 January were revealed on Monday.On what should have been a routine evening, a backlog of patients caused 12-hour trolley waits and "scenes like Beirut" with dozens of extra staff having to be called in.Inspectors from the RQIA said they have spoken to over 100 staff from a variety of roles and concerns were raised about staffing levels in key areas, allegations of bullying, staff under intolerable pressure, and a system of care that does not function fully as it was set up to do.Mr Poots had initially rejected talk that there was an emergency at the RVH but, following the inquiry and the revelation of five deaths, there have been accusations of a cover up.I certainly would express my sympathies to the families and have expressed my sympathies in these circumstances.Edwin PootsFearghal McKinney, SDLP, said: "It is our view that it was sustained political and media focus that has led to the revelations which might not otherwise have come to the fore."We conclude that either the minister didn't know, or did know about the longer-term pressures when he was making his earlier remarks and therefore the public might be right to suspect that there was at least a disguising of the situation or, at worst, a cover up.Mr Poots responded: "I attended the Royal Victoria Hospital on the morning after the major incident was declared and spoke to staff. I took my action on the basis of speaking to staff, nothing else, nothing more and nothing less."Kieran McCarthy MLA has expressed his shock about the claims.The Alliance representative said: "We have all known about the pressures at the Royal Victoria Hospital, however I am shocked by the claim that as many as five patients may have died partly as a result of a shortage of doctors."The Health Minister is in denial about the crisis in our hospitals' emergency departments. He must take immediate action to alleviate the pressures in our hospitals."