HEALTH Minister Edwin Poots has brought in a troubleshooter to investigate the shocking inability of Antrim Hospital to cope with admissions following the closure of the Mid Ulster Hospital’s A&E unit in Magherafelt.
And despite a spike in complaints regarding huge waiting times at Antrim, the Northern Trust has dismissed calls to reopen the Magherafelt unit which was closed 18 months ago.
Even the Minister Mr Poots stepped into the row describing the waiting times at Antrim hospital as ‘unacceptable’.
During a meeting at Stormont on Tuesday, the Minister revealed he had sent in a ‘troubleshooter’ to investigate the situation at Antrim Hospital.
The Trust’s Chief Executive Sean Donaghy admitted while it would have been more ‘preferable’ to have expanded Antrim A&E before closing the Mid Ulster’s A&E, there are ‘no plans’ to reopen the Mid Ulster A&E as it would be ‘clinically unsafe’.
A delegation of MLAs including the DUP’s Ian McCrea, SDLP’s Patsy McGlone, Ulster Unionist Sandra Overend and SF’s Francie Molloy with representatives of organisations which had opposed the closure of the Mid Ulster Hospital met with Mr Poots at Stormont.
It is understood the Minister heard strong views on the state of Antrim hospital and closure 18 months ago of the Mid Ulster Hospital’s A&E unit.
In a statement to the Mid Ulster Mail, a spokesperson for the Northern Trust said: “The decision to close Mid Ulster A&E was based on senior clinical staff raising serious concerns that the Trust could no longer guarantee that Accident and Emergency Services could be safely maintained at Mid Ulster hospital and was supported by the then Minister for Health.
“The Trust has no plans to re-open Mid Ulster Accident and Emergency Department as this would be clinically unsafe.”
However the Minister revealed to the delegation that it was against advice that the Magherafelt Unit was closed. It is understood the advice was not to close both the Mid Ulster A&E Unit and the Whiteabbey Hospital’s A&E unit at the same time.
DUP MLA Mr McCrea expressed concern that the huge problems at Antrim had left it ‘clinically unsafe’ and welcomed the news that Minister Poots was bringing in an expert to help sort the situation out at Antrim hospital. He revealed that the consultant had been drafted in two weeks ago for a six week appraisal of the situation.
Also Antrim Borough Council has called on the public and staff to describe their experiences.
For the past 18 months and more particularly in the past month there has been a barrage of complaints ranging from long waits to the number of patients put on trolleys.
Trust chief Mr Donaghy said: “The waiting times in the A&E are not acceptable and there is a course of work as to how we can improve that and we would expect that to be happening and to see these improvements over the next period of time,” he said.
Mr Donaghy said the trust was taking any feedback from patients very seriously.
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“I am very concerned that people will feel they do not have the confidence to come to Antrim for urgent medical conditions, and the reassurance I want to offer is that everyone who arrives in Antrim Hospital will be seen by a senior nurse and will be treated by a senior doctor and will have a clear care plan in place,” he said.
Mr Donaghy said the problems relate back to the closure of the Whiteabbey and Mid Ulster hospitals.
“We have an A&E department that was not designed for the number of people who are coming there for service and it is very difficult for staff to provide good quality of care that emphasises dignity and respect,” said Mr Donaghy.
“It is compromised as a physical environment. It would have been much preferable to have a plan to expand the A&E department at Antrim well in advance of the closure of the Whiteabbey and Mid Ulster hospitals.”
Antrim Area’s new A&E extension is due to be finished by the summer of 2013.