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Public advised to ‘think twice’ as pressure increases on A&E

January 11, 2016

A senior doctor in charge of local emergency departments says patients presenting themselves to hospital with minor ailments are diverting staff away from the real job of saving lives and has called on the public to think twice before visiting their local A&E.

Speaking as emergency departments across Northern Ireland, including those in Daisy Hill and Craigavon hospitals, experienced a high level of pressure over the Christmas and New Year period, Dr O’Reilly urged people with non-threatening complaints to use appropriate services such as Minor Ailments and GP Out of Hours services.

As the doctor responsible for emergency departments in the Southern Trust area, he said that saving lives is the priority for everyone working in ED and that minor ailments such as colds, sore throats and even paper cuts do not require treatment in an emergency department.“I think people sometimes forget that in any emergency department, there are people who are fighting for their lives and our staff are doing everything they can to help them,” Dr O’Reilly said.

“People involved in road traffic collisions, anyone with breathing difficulties, chest pains or a serious wound or limb injury all need to be our first priority.   There is a significant number of people attending our Emergency Departments with minor conditions and they are diverting highly trained doctors and nurses away from the job of helping people who are real emergencies.

“Limiting patients to urgent/emergency cases only would allow me and my colleagues to do what we are trained to do, without the distraction of queues of people with minor injuries and illnesses. It also allows patients with limb or life-threatening problems to receive the attention they need as promptly as possible.”

Pointing out the procedures of dealing with patients in emergency departments, he said: “The whole process from the moment a patient arrives in the Emergency Department until they leave is very carefully managed and monitored by senior medical staff and they know exactly where each patient is at any given time. People who are assessed as having non-emergency conditions are likely to be treated in the Minors Area and will have to wait until patients with emergency conditions are given the emergency treatment they need. I make no apology for saying that patients in the Majors Area or Resuscitation area are the priority and that everybody else will just have to wait until care and treatment has been provided to these patients.”

The senior medic reiterated that the public has a vitally important role to play in helping ease the pressure on Emergency Departments and his message is for members of the public to think twice before coming to the Emergency Department “and only come here if you have a serious and urgent condition”.

Meanwhile, the pressure was being felt across all emergency services with the local GP Out of Hours Service at Daisy Hill also experiencing a huge increase in calls over the New Year period

SDLP Karen McKevitt MLA said that concerns about services at Daisy Hill Hospital were now critical following the period of severe pressure on out of hours and A&E services.

According to Mrs McKevitt, Out of Hours calls over the New Year Bank Holiday Weekend period were returned over nine hours after first contact was made and one caller was told there were 120 people in front of her in the queue.

The SDLP said urgent intervention was needed to address the issues and described the situation as “totally untenable”, vowing to meet with the Health Minister to address all the issues.

Responding to concerns about the recent pressures on the Out of Hours service, a spokesperson for the Southern Health and Social Care Trust confirmed that almost 2,000 contacts were made to the service over the recent Bank Holiday weekend.

“The Trust issued several updates over the weekend via social media aimed at advising the public on how busy the service was, reminding people that the service is for urgent medical conditions that cannot wait until their own GP practice reopens,” added the spokesperson.

“The GP Out of Hours Service should only be used for serious urgent problems that cannot wait until your own GP surgery reopens and patients with serious urgent problems will always be the priority.

“Urgent medical problems are always prioritised and appeal to people to please consider the alternatives such as Minor Ailments scheme through local pharmacy. The Minor Ailments pharmacist can provide advice and treatment for conditions such as coughs and colds, sore throats head lice, thrush, threadworms, cold sores, mouth ulcers, ear wax, diarrhoea.

“There are other services available like Minor Injuries and pharmacies that can help you so please think carefully before choosing the right one – go to: www.nidirect.gov.uk/choosewell.”

The recent pressures on local emergency services have compounded fears about the future of the ED in Daisy Hill, as the much publicised senior staffing shortage continues. A Trust spokesperson confirmed that they were continuing to exhaust every recruitment option to attract senior medical staff to work in the Emergency Departments in Daisy Hill Hospital and Craigavon Area Hospital.

“We continue to face particular challenges with the recruitment and retention of senior medical staff required to safely sustain the Emergency Department at Daisy Hill hospital on a 24/7 basis, which increased recently with the resignation of a senior member of staff based in the Emergency Department in Daisy Hill Hospital.

“Senior medical staff from Daisy Hill and Craigavon Hospitals have agreed an interim plan for the emergency department in Daisy Hill so it can remain open overnight and these new arrangements are now in-place and are working effectively.

“Emergency departments across Northern Ireland are currently experiencing a high level of pressure and Daisy Hill’s Emergency Department is also busy but remains among the best performing in Northern Ireland in terms of waiting times.”

A delegation from the Ulster Unionist Party met with senior executives from the Southern  & Social Care Trust last week to discuss concerns over hospital pressures during the winter period and the future of services in the area, in particular the Emergency Department at Daisy Hill Hospital.

The delegation, comprising of Danny Kennedy MLA, Cllr David Taylor and Cllr Harold McKee, met with senior officials including current temporary Chief Executive Paula Clarke. Mr Kennedy said he was satisfied at efforts the Trust were making to attract suitably qualified consultants and staff to work at the hospital and he warned other public representatives and political parties to behave responsibly in their public comments to avoid undermining the status or services at Daisy Hill by feeding rumour and unhelpful speculation.

Mr Kennedy said his Party would remain in constant contact and dialogue with the Trust on all issues affecting health care in the area and would continue to support local health provision.

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