Calls for immediate intervention after parts of Altnagelvin Hospital Emergency Department have to be closed to due to staff shortages

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Chaos at Altnagelvin Emergency Department should serve as clarion call for a return to Stormont, SDLP Mark H Durkan has said.

The Foyle MLA called for immediate intervention to address concerns following confirmation from the Western Trust that it was necessary to close specific areas within the ED, including the Ambulance Offload area as well as one of the assessment and treatment areas, due to staff shortages.

Earlier this month the Permanent Secretary for Health, Peter May confirmed that work has commenced on The Review of Urgent and Emergency Care and that the development of a new build for the ED at Altnagelvin Hospital is progressing. He did however maintain that overcrowding within EDs were not as a result of poor staffing levels but rather poor flow into the hospital and community.

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The Foyle MLA said: “The situation within Altnagelvin Emergency Department is fast spinning out of control, urgent intervention is required to ensure the hospital is adequately resourced, especially as we head into the winter months. The partial closure of emergency care in recent weeks is indicative of a service in slow motion collapse.

Altnagelvin Hospital Emergency Department is under severe pressureAltnagelvin Hospital Emergency Department is under severe pressure
Altnagelvin Hospital Emergency Department is under severe pressure

“We’re witnessing chaotic scenes with people waiting days in overcrowded emergency rooms, treated in hospital corridors, stripped of their dignity and those are the lucky patients.

"Others aren’t receiving timely and appropriate care – I’ve received several reports of people suffering seizures within waiting rooms forced to wait in soiled clothes before being treated or elderly patients’ presenting with suspected stroke waiting on plastic hospital chairs throughout the night before staff have been able to assess them.

"Staff are past breaking point - they’re broken. They’ve been pushed to the brink acting as the pillars holding our crumbling health service together for the best part of a decade. They’ve taken hits from every side - a global pandemic, increase in demand all while battling a cost of living crisis on a meagre pay award which remains the lowest across these islands.

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“This must serve as a clarion call for the DUP who continue to hold society to ransom. Lives are being lost and on their watch. I’m not naïve enough to believe that a return to Stormont will be a panacea to the problems plaguing the health service. The parties in leadership have held the purse strings and placed health in a stranglehold for over a decade. But a return would be a step in the right direction.”

A spokesperson for the Western Health and Social Care Trust said: “Due to unfilled nursing shifts in ED at Altnagelvin over recent weeks, there have been occasions when it was not possible to allocate staff to all clinical areas within the department. Therefore, to manage this situation, it was necessary to focus on care delivery within the areas where we could maintain safe and appropriate staffing levels.

"The unfilled shifts were caused by a combination of vacancies, planned and unplanned leave and reduced uptake of shifts by agencies. Our priority was to ensure patients were assessed and treated safely and appropriately.

“The trust is undertaking focused work specific to nurse recruitment to both the Altnagelvin and South West Acute Hospital Emergency Departments as part of our workforce stabilisation strategy.”

The trust also said plans are being finalised for winter alongside other regional health and social care partners.