People will be aware from reports in this newspaper last week that the Emergency Department in Craigavon was very busy last Monday night.
It was indeed very busy for a time as we had a large number of patients arriving in a short space of time and more patients than normal needed to be admitted to wards which put additional pressure on the whole hospital system.
Whilst this is not unexpected at this time of the year, the sheer number of people attending the Emergency Department in a short time was a challenge but with nearly 80,000 attendances here each year, our staff are more than able to provide care and treatment in this type of busy environment.
Despite all the pressures on Monday, we managed this situation and the majority of patients were seen and treated without too much delay, which is a tribute to the skill and commitment of our staff.
Although we make our plans based on predictable patterns of attendance numbers and admissions, emergencies are by their very nature unpredictable, so we usually never know when nor how many people will turn up at the Emergency Department on any given day, nor can we predict how many of these people will come in with serious injuries requiring immediate treatment.
The Trust has well developed plans in place to deal with busy periods including bringing in additional staff, opening extra beds and working with colleagues in the ambulance service to ensure patients are taken to a hospital where they can be treated more quickly, if it is safe and appropriate to do so.
No ambulances are ever turned away from our Emergency Departments, the divert we agreed in advance with ambulance service colleagues last week led to a very small number some patients living within range of Daisy Hill, being taken by the ambulance from their home location to Daisy Hill instead of Craigavon.
In the Southern Trust we have an acute network which links our two Emergency Departments in Craigavon and Newry and patients are often transferred between the hospitals as and when it is safe and appropriate to do so.
Likewise, colleagues in Western Trust also agreed that patients from that part of Craigavon’s catchment could be diverted to South West Hospital. This also works both ways as patients from another Trust may be transferred to Craigavon or Daisy Hill during busy times.
At busy times like last week, all the Emergency Departments in Northern Ireland work together with the ambulance service, GPs/GP Out of Hours, Minor Injury Units and others to help manage peaks in demand when and where they happen.
Finally I would like to remind the public that hospital emergency departments are for people who are seriously ill or injured and need to be immediately treated and I appeal to everyone to remember that there are other services that can help you so please think carefully before choosing the right one. If you have a minor ailment, a visit to your pharmacist may be all you need or you can attend a Minor Injuries Unit for treatment of a minor condition like cuts, sprains, minor burns etc...
There are significant numbers of people attending our emergency departments with minor ailments and they are diverting doctors and nurses from the job of dealing with people who are real emergencies. People involved in accidents, anyone with breathing difficulties, chest pains or a serious wound all need to be our first priority.
The message we want to convey to people is to think twice before attending the emergency department and to choose well. Many people we see here could be treated at home, for instance, in the case of a minor wound, simply cleaning it and putting a plaster on it; alternatively they could consult a pharmacist, their own GP or the GP Out of Hours service. People with minor injuries should attend our Minor Injury Units in Armagh (open Monday-Friday 9am-5pm) or Dungannon (Open 9am to 9pm, Monday to Friday and 10am to 6pm Saturday and Sunday) where waiting times for treatment are much shorter than in our Emergency Departments.