I have proof of Trust lies: Doctor claims

May 1, 2017

A Senior Consultant Physician, who has worked at Daisy Hill Hospital for 20 years, has revealed he is in receipt of documents which allege the Southern Trust lied about the rates of pay given to locums. Dr Donal Duffin made the revelation at the packed board meeting of the Southern Health and Social Care Board which took place at Craigavon Hospital on Thursday last.  The highly contentious meeting was convened after warnings from the Trust that the Emergency  Department at Daisy Hill may temporarily close overnight due to staff shortages.

It followed a public meeting in Newry’s Canal Court on Monday night that saw hundreds of people voicing their objections to any closure of the local ED and to the proposed £1m extension of Craigavon Emergency Department, which has been mooted by the Trust as a means of coping with additional patients should the service at Daisy Hill be suspended at night.

Around 200 protesters also took part in a picket outside Trust Headquarters ahead of Thursday’s meeting. There were angry scenes as protesters tried to gain access to the board meeting, with around 12 people eventually allowed into the crammed boardroom to hear the Trust’s update of the staffing situation in Daisy Hill ED.

As proceedings got underway, Trust Interim Chief Executive Stephen McNally confirmed that he has asked the Department of Health  to hold a regional summit on options to safely sustain the Emergency Department in Daisy Hill Hospital.

Acknowledging the frustratingly slow progress of talks with consultants and other parties to come up with a longterm sustainable rota for the ED, Mr McNally disputed the public perception that Daisy Hill was being downscaled and said the notion was derived from “misinformation” being generated about the hospital’s status.  He added that rather than put his energies into trying to dissuade the general public of those claims, he had written to the Permanent Secretary requesting that he sponsor a summit which will include the Health and Social Care Board, the Public Health Agency, Belfast Trust, the Ambulance Service, the NI Medical and Dental Training Agency and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority.

“The Trust Board is fully committed to Daisy Hill Hospital, and will explore every option to keep the Emergency Department open, as long as services can be safely provided.

“This summit will bring together the collective expertise of health professionals from across Northern Ireland to support our efforts in maintaining the service in future,” said Mr McNally.

Medical Director Dr Richard Wright went on to describe ‘significant challenges’ around rotas but confirmed that in the short term there were no plans to change the service.  He acknowledged however that a “vulnerability” remained for the summer months.

Speaking at the meeting, Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady told the board he was sceptical about its plans to have a 12 week consultation on the temporary closure and he said  the £1m spend for Craigavon needed to be “legally challenged.” He accused the Southern Trust of having a “selective duty of care” and added that he hoped the Trust would not be remembered as “the people who closed Daisy Hill’s emergency Department and took away its acute status.”

Mr Brady’s colleague, Sinn Fein MLA Megan Fearon, raised the issue of Daisy Hill’s Fracture Clinic during the meeting but board members refused to discuss her claims that the clinic was being relocated to Craigavon and that patients have already been informed of the move. In a statement issued to The Examiner on Friday, a Trust spokesperson denied those claims, insisting that it hoped to relocate the Fracture Clinic from its current location in the Surgical Assessment Unit to “a more permanent location on the Daisy Hill site.”

Ms Fearon has described that response however as “wholly misleading” and said it must be challenged.

“Fracture Clinic patients have already been receiving letters informing them that their appointments are in Craigavon,” said the Sinn Fein MLA.

“Those who have phoned in seeking to have their appointments in Daisy Hill have been told that the Fracture Clinic will from now on be in Craigavon.”

Speaking to The Examiner, Ms Fearon said the Trust’s denials about the Fracture Clinic compound “a serious lack of confidence and trust in the Southern Health and Social Care Board” and confirmed that she and her colleagues will be seeking “straight answers” on the matter.

“People will not be lulled into any false sense of security. We had hoped that the Trust would have used this space prior to the “summit” to resolve staffing issues, but already what appears to be happening is a circling of the wagons by the Trust to ensure their original  position remains”.

Also addressing the board on Thursday, SDLP MLA Justin McNulty said there was ‘a real anger and fear in the community at the possible withdrawal of services’ and he said investments made in Daisy Hill over recent years “cannot be used as any sort of bargaining chip.”

Mr McNulty said the £1m contingency plan put forward by the Trust “beggars belief,” adding that it was “a very clear indication that this Trust is planning for the longer term closure of Daisy Hill’s Emergency Department.’

The SDLP MLA also claimed that the upcoming Westminster Election and the absence of a Health Minister at Stormont were the real reasons why the Trust has shelved its planned public consultation on the future of of the local Emergency Department.

Introducing Dr Duffin as the next speaker, Mr McNulty warned that the consultant had some shocking revelations regarding Junior Doctor payments that required immediate investigation.

Dr. Duffin accused the Trust of treating Daisy Hill as the “poor cousin” of Craigavon Hospital and he said the stripping away of services at Daisy Hill was “a fact, and was not based on “misinformation.” He angrily demanded that the inequality between the two hospitals be stopped immediately before dropping the bombshell that he had been given a letter which claimed to offer proof that junior doctors in Craigavon were being paid more for the same shift as junior doctors in Daisy Hill. He produced the documentation which he handed to Board chairperson Roberta Brownlee.

The well known consultant’s revelation stunned those present and prompted cries of “shame on you” from angry protesters.

“You are not treating us fairly. You are not telling us the truth. I am calling you out,” Dr Duffin told the Board. In response to the accusations, Mrs Brownlee offered assurances that the pay claims would be fully investigated.  She added that questions asked by those who were given speaking rights would be answered directly to the speakers in writing after the meeting.

The Examiner contacted the Trust in relation to Dr Duffin’s claims and was told:

“As location does not impact on the rate paid for a specific shift, The Trust refutes any allegation that preferential rates are given to locum shifts on the Craigavon Area Hospital site.

“Locum doctors are paid at varying rates depending on experience, agency, type of shift and how far in advance the shift is filled.

“Junior doctors in both of our Acute hospitals (Craigavon and Daisy Hill) received enhanced rates of pay for the Bank Holidays in April.

“The Trust is continually seeking to fill locum shifts on an ongoing basis. The Trust strives to obtain long term cover to provide more stability to the rota. We seek to fill long term locum shifts through agency with ad hoc shifts through medical e-locums and agency.”

Meanwhile, the much anticipated regional summit to deal with senior staffing issues collaboratively is expected to begin this week.