Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Ongoing senior staff shortage threatens future of Daisy Hill Emergency Department

The Southern Trust has admitted that, despite its efforts to recruit senior doctors to maintain the Emergency Department in Daisy Hill at night time on a permanent or temporary basis, the UK wide shortage of Middle Grade and Consultant emergency medical staff continues to present difficulties with both the recruitment and retention of suitably qualified doctors.

In a statement provided to The Examiner in response to our request for an update on the staffing situation and renewed speculation that the Emergency Department is set to close at night time from November, a Trust spokesperson said it remained committed to a “24/7 emergency department service” in Daisy Hill and was working closely with the Health and Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency to maintain the service.

Back in July, The Examiner exclusively revealed that difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff at the hospital had led to fears of a reduction in Emergency Department opening hours.

The situation was brought to the attention of The Examiner by a member of the public who, through a source in the medical field, learned that there was strong speculation that the local emergency department could close in the evenings and over weekends in the near future.

The ongoing issue of pressures on the local Emergency Department was raised last week during an Assembly debate led by SDLP Assembly Member for Newry and Armagh, Dominic Bradley.  Local MLA’s, including Sinn Fein’s Megan Fearon, were united in voicing their anger that Health Minister Simon Hamilton was not present to hear the debate.

“It seems he is quite happy to engage in stunts by going back to his post for a brief period but did not think the future of services at Daisy Hill hospital was important enough to warrant his attention,” said the Sinn Fein MLA, adding that “recruitment of doctors for Daisy Hill hospital needs to happen as soon as possible so the best possible services can be delivered for patients.”

“The people of Newry and Armagh deserve better treatment than they have been getting to date from the health service.”

Mr Bradley said he was “bitterly disappointed” at the absence of the Health Minister and said his “Here today gone tomorrow” attitude was “playing fast and loose with our health service and with people’s lives.”

Referring to the recent decision to withdraw Stroke Services from Newry to Craigavon, the poor ambulance response times in south Armagh which have prompted the inception of a First Responders Scheme, and the increasing pressure on GPs across south Armagh,  the SDLP MLA said these issues were all contributing factors to the pressures faced by the Emergency Department in Daisy Hill.

“Last Year, the demand on Daisy Hill’s Emergency Department increased by 10%,” said Mr Bradley.

“Numbers presenting to the service are increasing, people are waiting longer to be seen and the Trust is struggling to recruit the staff required to maintain the unit 24 hours a day, seven Days a week.  There are real and genuine concerns among hospital staff and in the community at large that this could lead to reduced operating hours.’

The SDLP Assembly Member revealed that the Southern Trust had already engaged in 16 recruitment exercises and yet have failed to fill the staffing complement required at Middle Grade and Consultant Emergency Medical Staff level.

He said he had met with the Acting Chief Executive Paula Clarke and her predecessor Mairead McAlinden and their executive teams on the issue and that, while he appreciated the efforts they were making to address the problem, “the Department and the Minister – when he comes back – need to act.”

“They must do more to support this service and to support Daisy Hill.”

In its response to The Examiner, the Southern Trust said senior medical staff from Daisy Hill and Craigavon Hospitals have agreed a management plan for the emergency department so it can remain open overnight.

“While this is welcomed, the service remains extremely vulnerable to any further loss of medical staff and sustaining the service in the medium to long term remains a significant challenge,” added the spokesperson.

“The new model is under constant review by senior Trust staff to ensure it is meeting the level of care expected in a Type 1 Emergency Department and recruitment efforts will continue unabated.

“The Trust remains committed to a 24/7 ED service in Daisy Hill , and is working with the Health and Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency  to do everything possible to maintain the service.

The Trust did not comment on concerns that the Emergency Department may be set to close from 10pm at night from November.