South Down MP Margaret Richie has described a pledge by the Health Minister to have the doors of the Downe hospital open 24/7 as ‘a step in the right direction’ towards full restoration of A&E services.
Speaking after meeting with Minister Poots this morning along with South Down MLA Sean Rogers and Down District Councillor Colin McGrath, Ms Ritchie said she was encouraged by the Minister’s commitment but stressed the end result must be full restoration of middle grade doctor lead A&E services at the Downe Hospital.
She added: “The Minister has made the commitment that he wants to see 24/7 accessibility to the Downe; that the doors of the hospital be open 24/7. It’s a step in the right direction, but we want a determined strategy to invest in the middle grade doctors that are needed to staff A&E at the Downe Hospital on a full-time basis.
“In the interim, the Minister stated that he wants the South Eastern Trust and the Health & Social Care Board to work on a plan to develop an emergency-led nurse practitioner scheme, which would be a form of A&E where nurses are located on site with GP’s at weekends, but that’s not what the people want or deserve.
In a written response to the Assembly back on 27 January 2014 to the Assembly, Minister Poots explained that a process of establishing pilot programmes for A&E’s was coming on stream. He said: “I turn to concerns about the pressures faced by hospitals. Recently, there has been a particular focus on emergency departments (ED’s). Nurse staffing in ED’s is informed by the Royal College of Nursing faculty of emergency nursing, which, over the past few years, has developed tools to enhance the understanding of the dependency and care demands of patients, such as the Jones dependency tool and the Manchester triage tool. Recently, the faculty has revised its work, and a new tool is being piloted in a number of our trusts.
“Emergency care departments are experiencing challenges in maintaining appropriate staffing levels, particularly during the winter months. That is a challenge across the UK. It can be due to seasonal increases, for which non-recurring funding is provided to enable trusts to employ additional staff during winter months. Although this gives the trusts an element of flexibility it is, nevertheless, a challenge, which is the reason why Transforming Your Care is so important; it recognises that difficulties in one area can be symptoms from other areas.”
Health campaigners have already focussed on the issue of 41% of attendees to the Ulster Hospital in the South Eastern HSC Trust area coming from the Belfast Trust area, a different Trust area. Minister Poots is therefore flagging up that possibly the problems in the South eastern Trust A&E’s may be a result of impacts from “other areas”.
Ms Ritchie continued: “We are determined to continue to work on behalf of the community to have 24/7 middle grade doctor cover restored to the Downe hospital and, while we agree and welcome the Minister’s recognition of what is needed at the Downe Hospital, we have concerns about how he intends to get there. We want the Minister to move in a more accelerated manner, and restore A&E services.
“Further, we will continue dialogue with the Minister, the Health & Social Care Board and the Trust. On a day-to-day basis I am hearing from people who are anxious that middle grade doctor A&E services be restored at the Downe Hospital.
“We will continue our campaign to ensure that such services are restored; that other services are provided. Such a two-pronged approach if implemented by the Minister, the Trust and the Health & Social Care Board will ensure the sustainability of services at the Downe Hospital. The people of Down and Mourne deserve and demand equality of access to A& E services at the Downe Hospital.”