Trust confirms patients being treated in hospital car park - 17 ambulances in queue

The Northern Trust says patients are being treated in the car park of Antrim Area Hospital because 17 ambulances could not be accepted by the Emergency Department due to congestion.

By Philip Bradfield
Tuesday, 15th December 2020, 6:30 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th December 2020, 9:02 pm
Medical staff attending to two patients in an ambulance, at Antrim Area Hospital, Co Antrim in Northern Ireland. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday December 15, 2020. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Medical staff attending to two patients in an ambulance, at Antrim Area Hospital, Co Antrim in Northern Ireland. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday December 15, 2020. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

A Northern Trust Spokesman confirmed the reports to the News Letter.

“Today we have the highest number of COVID-19 positive inpatients in our two acute hospitals that we have had on any day since this pandemic first began. 126 in total,” he said.

“Both hospitals are operating beyond capacity. Inside the Emergency Department it is very busy and we have a total of 43 patients who are waiting to be admitted because they are ill and clinicians have made the decision that they need to be admitted. Those patients need to be tested for COVID-19 so that they can follow the appropriate pathway when they are moved to wards. The required testing and other necessary restrictions considerably reduces the flow through the hospitals and complicates the patient journey.

“At 4pm this afternoon we had a total of 17 ambulances with patients who couldn’t be brought into the ED. Unfortunately for some that means long waits and having to be cared for in the back of ambulances. That is not a satisfactory situation in anybody’s book. Those patients should be inside the hospital and the ambulances should be back out responding to other urgent calls.”

Northern Health Trust operations director Wendy McGowan said it was the first time she had witnessed such a situation.

Ambulances are queuing outside emergency departments in the Northern Health Trust because hospitals are operating “beyond capacity”.

Ms Magowan said 43 people were waiting for an emergency bed at Antrim Area Hospital and 21 at the Causeway Hospital on Tuesday morning.

“These are older frail, sick people and unfortunately they are being delayed in ambulances because we simply have no room to bring these patients into our emergency departments,” she told the BBC.

“Ambulances need to be out on the ground looking after sick people, they do not need to be queuing outside emergency departments.”

Jennifer Welsh, chief executive of the Northern Trust, said one patient waiting in an ambulance has been diverted to a hospital in the Belfast Trust.

“We are working our way through all of these patients, at the same time work is ongoing inside the hospital looking at the discharges and if we can maybe facilitate these in a more timely way, but obviously that has to be a safe way as well,” she told the BBC.

“This has to be about the whole system, the whole region coming together to look at what it is that we can do. We are also looking at other areas, including day care areas… we are going to have to convert these into bed spaces probably for overnight. That’s the kind of situation that we’re in. It doesn’t augur well for the rest of this winter if this is what we’re like on December 15.

“My appeal out to the public is look at the pressure we’re already under, this is unsustainable.

“We have to find a way to get some decongestion and the public can help with that in terms of their own behaviour over the next number of weeks and please be careful over this festive period. We cannot afford for the situation to get even worse than it already is, we’re walking a knife edge.”

NI’s Chief Scientific Officer Professor Ian Young said the R number for Covid was currently “at or a little bit above 1”.

“That’s certainly not where we hoped it would be,” he said.

He said data of traffic flow show that many people did not heed the “stay at home” message over the most recent two-week circuit-break lockdown.

Prof Young said there was no evidence to date to show that the circuit-break had brought down case numbers.

He said there had instead been two weeks of a “slow and steady increase” in case numbers.

Prof Young flagged particular concern about infection rates in Mid and East Antrim council area. He said a case prevalence of 313 per 100,000 people was more than 100 cases higher than any other area of Northern Ireland.

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