Concerns have been raised after a Major Incident was declared at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where extra staff had to be brought in as the emergency department experienced “extreme pressures” on Wednesday evening.
The Belfast Trust, which runs the hospital, said it had to declare a Major Incident, allowing them to call in extra staff at short notice to deal with what it termed “particularly difficult situations”.
Forty-two people were waiting on trolleys at one stage, the BBC reported.
Health Minister Edwin Poots said he could “appreciate that it was a challenging situation for patients and staff” on Wednesday night.
Members of Unison protested outside the hospital udring the Minsiter’s visit on Thursday. There were also reports he was booed.
He praised staff for their commitment and hard work during the previous evening.
“I would like to thank all staff for working long hours, in many cases above and beyond the call of duty, to ensure that all patients received the care they needed, as the Belfast Trust implemented its escalation procedures to deal with ED attendances last night. I appreciate that it was a challenging situation for patients and staff.
“The additional staff who responded manned other areas which were then used as additional wards to address the unexpected demand. I am aware that the position by this morning was much better with no patients in the Belfast Trust, or indeed in any other Trust, waiting more than 12 hours to be assessed, treated and then admitted or discharged.
“I look to the Trust to work with the Health and Social Care Board to ensure that all patients are treated safely, appropriately and as efficiently as possible.”
He said the circumstances on Wednesday were exceptional and also called on members of the public to be careful as to how they use emergency services.
“It is also important that the public play their part by using emergency care facilities responsibly and appropriately. People should always consider whether they need to go to the A&E, or if treatment could be sought from Minor Injuries Units, GPs or GP Out Of Hours, or a local pharmacist.
“The Health and Social Care Board is working with Trusts to ensure that effective escalation plans are in place to respond appropriately to any surge in hospital activity. This includes being ready to expand hospital bed capacity and increase community care packages to support people at home. In addition, plans are being put in place to enhance GP Out of Hours arrangements.
The SDLP’s party health spokesman Fearghal McKinney said he is concerned the pressure on Belfast hospitals will only increase following last week’s news that Downe and Lagan Valley A&E departments will not be open at weekends.
“I warned the Health Trusts and the Minister before Christmas that the plans to significantly reduce A&E service hours across the North would have a detrimental impact on those hospitals which would be left to deal with the service deficit.
“Now we’re seeing critical pressure placed on Craigavon area hospital and Belfast RVH which are experiencing unprecedented demand as a result of these flawed decisions.
“The Health Minister must now intervene urgently with a coherent strategy to deal with the demand for A&E services and relieve some of the pressure on hospital units which are stretched to breaking point. We must have immediate answers outlining what emergency contingency is in place to deal with this situation.
A Trust spokesperson also praised staff for their professional during the situation on Wednesday.
“Our staff dealt professionally and quickly with a difficult situation and within a few hours had rectified the situation,” said the spokesperson.
“We would like to pay tribute to the staff who work in such a challenging and demanding environment. They work under significant pressure and at all times put the needs of our patients first.
“While we fully understand how frustrating long waits can be for patients and recognise that the situation was not ideal, all steps were taken to ensure patients were safely cared for.”