‘Old’ NI hospital needs urgent investment as patients struggle for space in Emergency Department

Craigavon Hospital facilities are ‘antiquated’ and need urgent investment says an MP as patients struggle to find space in an overcrowded Emergency Department.

Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 2:02 pm

This week Upper Bann MP Carla Lockhart said she has been contacted by a number of constituents on how busy the ED is, with long waits and a lack of waiting space available for ‘very ill people’.

Mrs Lockhart said she has raised a number of cases with the Southern Health Trust’s management team.

“The pressure on the ED is immense with people perhaps not getting appointments with their GPs and also the fact that often there is no GPs available for an ‘Out of Hours Service’.

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 11th January 2021 Photo by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye General view of Craigavon Area Hospital, Co. Armagh, which in the last number of days has seen a sharp increase in the number of inpatients due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The hospital facilities are antiquated and need urgent investment. Staff are doing their best with the resources they have available but urgent manpower, investment and a re-structuring of primary care services is needed.

She has also asked for an urgent meeting with the Trust’s Chief Executive and Health Minister Robin Swan.

A spokesperson for the Southern Trust said: Our Emergency Departments are seeing increasing numbers of patients presenting for treatment as attendances have returned to pre-Covid levels.

“We are facing ongoing challenges in admitting patients due to our hospitals working at almost full capacity. Most of the long waits in the Emergency Department are due to patients waiting for a bed to be allocated, which has a direct impact on the length of time new patients who arrive at the Department will have to wait to be seen.

“There are occasions when we are not able to provide full GP cover in our Urgent Care Out of Hours service. However, as a telephone-based service, patients should always telephone first to access our team of GPs, Pharmacists and Nurses. The majority of patients will be treated with telephone advice, some will be given an appointment at their nearest Out of Hours base and a smaller number will require a home visit.

“We are continuing to work with primary care colleagues and other health and social care organisations regionally to address the ongoing issues across unscheduled care services.”

Heath Minister Robin Swann urged the public to support staff as they continue to work through unprecedented pressures.

He said the system as a whole is struggling to cope with current levels of demand for care - and also expressed concern at reports of aggressive and abusive behaviour towards staff.

He pointed out that the service has been through the most difficult period in its history and remains under extreme stress.

A summer ‘Stay Well’ campaign has been launched to highlight actions we can all take. Getting vaccinated and doing all we can to stop Covid spreading will provide vital support.

He said: “The current level of pressure is at least on a par with what is normally experienced in winter. There are a number of interlinked factors behind this situation.

“Our health system was fragile before the pandemic and the last 18 months have inflicted untold damage. The truth is that the system as a whole is struggling to cope with current levels of demand for care. This is severely impacting Emergency Departments, GP services, the NI Ambulance Service and other areas. It is leading in many cases to long and distressing waiting times for patients. That is a deeply regrettable state of affairs.

“I am deeply concerned at reports of aggressive and abusive behaviour towards some staff. Staff understand the frustrations of the public. Indeed, they share them. So do I. Staff have not created the current situation, nor can they flick a switch and fix them. Despite the trauma and exhaustion caused by Covid, staff are working relentlessly to treat the sickest people quickest.”

“Some of the causes of the current situation in our health service have been building up for years. I am determined to address these. In recent weeks, I have published roadmaps for tackling our waiting list crisis and rebuilding cancer services, and a 10-year Mental Health Strategy. I continue to make the case for sustained and substantial investment in health and I believe this has strong support around the Executive table.”

Factors behind the current health and social care pressures include: limits on capacity due to COVID-19 infection prevention measures, including restricted space in hospitals and reductions in already stretched bed capacity;

ongoing Covid-related care for patients, plus the significant workload delivering the NI vaccination programme;

people coming forward for medical care for conditions that developed during lockdown;

people presenting with mental health conditions that developed during lockdown;

people who are on waiting lists seeking GP or hospital care for conditions that have deteriorated;

limits on capacity in intermediate/social/domiciliary care, impacting on hospital discharges;

The Health and Social Care (HSC) system together with GPs, pharmacists and dentists are working to ensure that the Northern Ireland public can access important health and care services this summer.

The summer ‘Stay Well’ campaign will encourage the public to choose services appropriately to help ease current challenges.

As part of the campaign, people are being encouraged to look after themselves and others. This includes simple steps like ordering repeat prescriptions well in advance of any public holidays. This can help reduce pressures on GP and GP out of hours services.

If you feel unwell, there are a range of healthcare services available to help you. These range from self-care/pharmacy for minor ailments; GP services; Minor Injury Units and Emergency Services. Self-care is the best choice to treat minor illnesses, ailments and injuries. A range of common illnesses such as sunburn, hay-fever, aches and pains, coughs, colds, upset stomachs and sore throats can be treated with over the counter medicines and plenty of rest. Remember, whether treated or not, most of these will get better.

To be clear, if your case is an emergency, then you should go to a hospital Emergency Department without delay.

COVID-19 continues to bring significant pressures to Northern Ireland’s health and social care system. That’s why we must continue to do all we can to stop the virus spreading. By getting fully vaccinated, with both doses of your vaccine, you will be playing an important part in supporting our health service. Continuing to follow public health advice on preventing Covid infection is also vital.



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