Patients who would normally be taken to the emergency department of Craigavon Hospital had to be diverted as far away as Enniskillen on Monday night in a situation described as “pandemonium”.
It is the second such issue at an A&E department here, coming just days before a Major Incident was declared at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
Ambulances were diverted to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry while other patients were treated at South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen due to what the Trust said was a “very busy” situation “with a large number of patients needing to be admitted in the evening”.
The Trust has said diverting ambulances to other hospitals is “normal practice”.
SDLP deputy leader and MLA for the area Dolores Kelly said the situation had created a serious risk to patients.
“From what I can gather it was pandemonium,” Mrs Kelly told the News Letter.
And despite claims from Health Minister Edwin Poots on Thursday that Northern Ireland’s health service is the safest it has been in years, a staff member at Craigavon said the situation on Monday was the worst they had seen in 40 years, added Mrs Kelly.
“I have received multiple reports of a serious incident in Craigavon Area Hospital where an unprecedented demand on Accident and Emergency Services created what was perceived to be a serious risk to patients,” she said.
“I have heard stories of multiple ambulances being diverted to other hospitals while more queued at the door. I have heard of patients being placed in inappropriate locations in the hospital including recovery wards.
“The frontline staff dealt with this very serious situation with professionalism and their best efforts, but it is not acceptable that the situation should have occurred in the first place.”
Mrs Kelly questioned the thinking behind closing the nearby Lagan Valley and Downe hospital’s A&E departments on weekends.
“At a time when A&E opening hours are being reduced in Lagan Valley and the Downe Hospital it is clear those patients need to go somewhere. Winter is a time of pressure for A&Es with illness and accidents particularly for older people or those with long-term or chronic illness.
“There is a serious resource issue across the north and this must be addressed as a matter of urgency by the Minister for Health. Patient safety must be the paramount concern and the kind of incident at Craigavon Area Hospital must not be allowed to reoccur.”
Mairead McAlinden, Southern Trust Chief Executive, apologised for the delays faced by patients, but said managers and clinicians had dealt “effectively” with the situation.
“Our staff went the extra mile last night, and everyone worked together to make sure patients had the treatment they needed,” she said. “The situation was managed through our normal escalation processes, and I am very grateful to our doctors, nurses and managers who worked into the late evening to make sure our patients were safely cared for. We are very fortunate to have such committed and caring staff.
“I apologise for some patients having to wait longer than normal in our ED on Monday, but I was in regular contact with Debbie Burns, Interim Director of Acute Services who was on site managing the situation that evening and I know that everything possible was done to effectively control a high number of patients coming to Craigavon and Daisy Hill Hospital needing our care.”