Health Minister must tackle Daisy Hill staff shortages: McKevitt

March 7, 2016

Issues surrounding the ongoing shortage of staff in Daisy Hill hospital’s emergency department are damaging morale and adversely impacting on applications for the vacant posts, the SDLP’s Karen McKevitt has claimed.

Extensive advertising of 29 vacant positions over the last six months drew just a few applicants and, to date, all of the posts remain unfilled, with just two specialty doctors appointed to the emergency department in that time, she said.

Calling for action from Health Minister Simon Hamilton, Mrs McKevitt said: “I have spoken with senior management in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust and received assurances that the Trust is taking action to attract the right people to these posts and that the emergency department service will remain operational on a full-time basis.”

The MLA revealed that Health Trusts have collectively spent over £50 million employing temporary staff and says their focus should be to reduce this and recruit permanent staff as a cost saving measure.

“The Minister and the Department of Health have failed to deal with workforce planning and the consequences are being felt by staff working under intolerable pressure,” she said.

“The increasing workload, coupled with pay freezes, are damaging morale and damaging prospects attracting new staff.  The current rate of vacancies is only exacerbating this problem. The uncertainty over junior doctor contracts is also a factor that is discouraging doctors from finding work here.

“Reports on high waiting times for emergency services across the region demonstrate the need for urgent and decisive action on these issues.  By addressing these problems the Minister can begin to tackle emergency room waiting times that have spiralled out of control,” she added.

A Southern Trust spokesperson confirmed to The Examiner that the latest briefing sent to local political representatives in January, on behalf of Interim Chief Executive, Paula Clarke, advised that a senior member of staff based there had since left their post after tendering their resignation last November.

The Trust admitted that the UK-wide shortage of Middle Grade and Consultant emergency medical staff continues to present “significant difficulties” with both the recruitment and retention of suitably qualified doctors and senior medical staff required to safely sustain the Emergency presenting a particular challenge.

The January briefing sought to reassure political representatives that the Southern Trust is

“continuing to exhaust every recruitment option to attract medical staff at a range of grades to work in our hospitals.”

“We advertise job opportunities online and via social media and have also engaged international recruitment specialists to help us reach as many suitably qualified overseas medical staff as possible.”

A management plan for the emergency department has been agreed by senior medical staff from Daisy Hill and Craigavon some months ago and, the briefing outlined that,  “staff from both hospitals are now working on a short-term rota basis to support Daisy Hill’s Emergency Department to remain open while we progress these recruitment approaches.”

“The future sustainability of the service remains challenging in the medium to long term,” it added.

“We are continuing to work with the Health and Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency to do everything possible to maintain this service.”