A Belfast alderman has expressed grave concern for the ability of accident and emergency services to cope this winter after spending 16 hours waiting to be admitted.
Belfast UUP alderman David Browne attended the accident and emergency (A&E) unit at the Mater Hospital in recent days due to intense pain caused by gallstones.
“The Mater told me I had an infection in the gall bladder and they would have to send me to the Royal Victoria Hospital as they had no beds,” he said.
He was given a penicillin injection to kill the pain.
He arrived at the Mater at noon on Wednesday and was transferred to the Royal at 4am on Thursday. But he decided to leave the Royal after three hours when he saw some 20 people on trolleys in the ambulance entrance to A&E and felt he could not wait any longer to be admitted.
“The doctor at the Royal looked at my notes and said that if it gets worse to come straight back. So I had been in one hospital or another from noon on Wednesday to 7am on Thursday, when my wife came to collect me.”
Mr Browne praised the efforts of all front line staff who treated him at both hospitals.
“I was told somebody decided two weeks ago to move all surgical work from the Mater to the Royal and this has caused major problems,” he said.
“People were telling me they are preparing the Royal for a new 500-bed unit for A&E to replace the 750 beds they currently have.
“They were also talking about the closure of the Mater A&E. It is bad enough now, but what happens when winter sets in and we get a major frost and many people come in suffering from breaks?”
A spokeswoman for the Belfast Health Trust said they were “very sorry” about Mr Browne’s delays.
She said the Royal’s emergency surgical unit has been expanded and a new surgical assessment unit has nine assessment spaces where acutely ill surgical patients can be assessed and monitored prior to being admitted.
The Mater Hospital continues to provide both day and emergency surgery and planned bladder-related surgery, she said.
A public consultation has recommended two emergency departments in Belfast, based at the Mater and Royal, but the recommendation awaits a ministerial decision.
“In anticipation of increased winter pressures we have opened additional medical and fracture beds on the Royal Victoria site for the winter period. Our emergency department team are working closely with their clinical colleagues, including primary care, to respond to the increasing demands of the incoming winter,” she added.