Action group reacts to reduced A&E service claims

August 1, 2016

With speculation rising about plans to reduce the opening hours at Daisy Hill’s Accident and Emergency Department, Chairman of the Daisy Hill Action Group (DHAG), Francis Gallagher, spoke to The Examiner about the potential impact of such a move on the acute status of the hospital.

Public suspicion over plans to gradually erode services at Daisy Hill were elevated when the Trust admitted last November that it was facing significant difficulties in the recruitment and retention of suitably qualified doctors and senior medical staff to safely sustain the local Emergency Department.  The Trust reiterated however that its preferred option was to maintain the service at Daisy Hill and pledged to do everything in its power to do so.

Reacting to claims made last week that the Trust is in the process of reducing the Emergency Department hours at Daisy Hill whilst at the same time expanding Craigavon’s Emergency Department, Mr Gallagher said a reduction in Daisy Hill’s A&E hours “will destroy the hospital’s acute status because a full-time A&E is one of the five pillars upon which an acute hospitals rests.”

The action group Chairman said doctors have advised him that the absence of a full time Emergency Department at Daisy Hill will have “very serious” consequences as it will take longer to transport patients to Craigavon Hospital to get the urgent medical attention they need within professionally recommended timescales.

“For example: if someone unfortunately suffers a stroke, doctors say a scan is needed within the golden first hour to determine if the stroke is caused by a clot or bleeding. It is stated that this scan is vital to determine what treatment is given. Doctors also say that this initial investigation needs to take place within an A&E department,” said Mr Gallagher.

“What will happen to someone who has a stroke if Daisy Hill’s casualty department is closed? It may be too late by the time they arrive at Craigavon. The road from Newry is poor and this will be compounded by the inevitable winter flooding. It would make more sense to develop acute services at Newry because of its location along a first class motorway network.”

Commenting on the Trust’s recruitment difficulties, Mr Gallagher said the Daisy Hill Action Group hope to meet with the new Minister of Health very soon to “dig a bit deeper into this argument.”

“Daisy Hill and Craigavon should be mutually dependent in terms of sharing staff, so we will be asking where is the evidence to show this is happening?”

He added that he hopes the Bengoa study – a report generated by an expert panel, headed by Spanish health reform expert, Professor Rafael Bengoa – does not recommend a continuation of the policy of centralisation of acute care and takes into account the arguments made by highly regarded surgeons and senior medical staff for the retention of the small acute hospital.

“Regarding the Bengoa report, the question to be asked is this: how much courage and independent thinking will politicians show to influence the Department to only use this study’s findings as an opinion rather than as cut and paste policy?“ said the DHAG Chairman.

“Ultimately whether the Bengoa study is implemented or if Daisy Hill loses its A&E, stroke unit and acute status – it will be a political decision.”

“Many people have lost confidence in our political system delivering the health care we need. There is a huge moral responsibility on all of us who are able, through the politics of peace and reconciliation, to make sure the whole community gets the health care they deserve.

“This could mean an even bigger mass rally at Newry in future, if the people’s voice is not listened to. I have no doubt Daisy Hill will survive and be developed if people have confidence that they can succeed.”

In light of the renewed speculation on future plans for Daisy Hill A&E Department, the Southern Trust issued a statement last week reiterating that their position remained unchanged and that it was committed to retaining a 24/7 Emergency Department at the Newry hospital.

“Daisy Hill Hospital is a key part of our acute hospital networking  (along with Craigavon Area Hospital) and we remain committed to a 24/7 Emergency Department at Daisy Hill,” said a Trust spokesperson.

“Daisy Hill Emergency Department has an excellent team of staff and recently modernised facilities (a major capital development was completed in 2-14).

“The trust has been very open about our challenges with the recruitment and retention of senior medical staff in Daisy Hill Hospital’s Emergency Department.

“The UK-wide shortage of Middle Grade and Consultant emergency staff continues to present significant difficulties with both recruitment and retention of suitably qualified doctors.”

Highlighting that the Trust continues to “exhaust every recruitment option” to attract senior medical staff to the local hospital, the spokesperson outlined that over the last year it has advertised regularly for permanent Emergency Medicine Consultants and had embarked on a European recruitment campaign.

“We have now recruited on permanent consultant to work in Daisy Hill and have secured a number of locum agency speciality doctors on a short term basis,” the statement revealed.

“Ensuring the delivery of safe, high quality care to our patients is and always will be our focus.

“Senior Management continue to meet regularly to review the Emergency Department staffing situation and we are continuing to work with the Health and Social Care Board and the Department of Health on this issue.”