07/09/2011

City Hospital's A&E To Close Within Weeks

An apparent 'temporary' move to close a busy south Belfast Accident & Emergency (A&E) facility has been described as being 'safety-led' on one hand and disingenuous on the other.

The DUP Health Spokesman Jim Wells has commented on the confirmation by the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust today that the A&E Department at Belfast City Hospital will close on 1st November.

The Belfast Health Trust told a meeting of the Board on Wednesday that the move was not 'funding-led' but 'safety-led', because of a lack of qualified senior medial staff.

Originally the unit had been expected to close at the end of September.

The extension of the deadline was facilitated by the loan of two A&E consultants from the Ulster hospital.

Speaking today Mr Wells said: "The primary concern of everyone associated with our health service must be the safety and wellbeing of patients.

"The announcement today by the Belfast Trust unfortunately is an inevitable result of staffing pressures within the City Hospital and particularly the fact that two senior registrars are leaving to take up consultant posts.

"However, there have also been criticisms laid by the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency regarding the lack of senior support overnight for inexperienced junior doctors.

"This was a very serious issue and could potentially have led to the General Medical Council withdrawing all training posts in Belfast," he revealed.

"Whilst we are all aware of the extremely tight financial framework in which Government has to operate, none of these issues are related to finances, but they impact upon the quality and safety of service which can be offered to patients attending the City Hospital.

"In an ideal world it would obviously be preferable to have more time available to manage changes with provision, but the current pressures mean that action must be taken now.

"This announcement however can only be a temporary one, and any proposal to make the closure permanent would be subject to a full public consultation," he said, adding that the (DUP) Health Minister has met with local representatives in both Belfast and Castlereagh to discuss the issues affecting local people.
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"It must also be stated that the City Hospital will remain a key site for the provision of healthcare in Belfast, and indeed Provincewide. "There will also be no job losses associated with this announcement, but obviously staff uncertainty when any change is announced is understandable," he continued.

"It is important however that both the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Ulster Hospital in particular are able to deal with the increase in patient numbers arising from this closure.

"Whilst there is a range of work ongoing to ensure this, I and the Heath Committee as a whole will want to receive continued assurances on this.

"If clinical expertise is stretched too thinly a unit may be seen to be operating but [it would be] the patients who would suffer in the end," he concluded.

Wrong Move

The SDLP South Belfast MP Dr Alasdair McDonnell has condemned the Belfast Health Trust's decision.

He said: "This displays a disingenuous effort on the part of the trust. I believe that the Trust has not given a genuine effort to secure the senior staffing required.

"In circumstances where the Royal Hospital's casualty is already working to capacity in a temporary building, there will be nowhere for the current A&E clientele of the City Hospital to move to.

"I appeal to the Trust to start putting patients first and reverse this decision," he said.

Last month, the Stormont Health Minister Edwin Poots moved to assure stakeholders that his primary aim was to maintain the provision of high quality care and treatment.

He met with senior staff of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.

Edwin Poots previously met a delegation of MLAs from south Belfast to discuss A&E services in Belfast City Hospital to tell them that a shortage of junior doctors had put a question mark over the viability of the unit.

The Belfast Health Trust earlier warned that unless it could fill a number of senior staff vacancies at the City Hospital that it would have to close on a temporary basis from the end of next month.

However, it is anticipated this could in fact be a permanent move.

See: Belfast A&E Resources Again In Focus

(BMcC/GK)

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