The Ulster hospital is set to receive more visitors to its casualty department as the City A&E unit has now closed its doors.
As of 8am yesterday (November 1) anyone needing to use the A&E department at the City Hospital is to be redirected to the Royal Victoria Hospital for treatment and emergency cases are to be rushed to another hospital via ambulance. It is expected that the Ulster, the Mater and the Royal Victoria hospitals will have to deal with around 40,000 extra patients per year.
Government figures have revealed the Ulster Hospital A&E had the highest number of patients waiting longer than 12 hours in Northern Ireland — 617 between July and September of this year.
The figures have been released as bosses at the South Eastern Health & Social Care Trust warned patients will probably face longer waits for treatment and beds as a result of the closure of the City Hospital A&E.
The number of people who waited more than 12 hours in the Royal Victoria A&E was 146, the Mater was 65 and at the City A&E 29 people waited more than 12 hours.
Though the Ulster Hospital had the longest line of people waiting more than 12 hours to be seen patients at the Ulster are to benefit from a new service which is set to ‘slash waiting times for cardiac investigations’.
The new mobile catheterisation laboratory will operate at the Ulster every Friday, reducing waiting times and providing service on the doorstep.
The first patient to use the unit was Newtownards man, John Manson. He said: “It was very convenient.
“I didn’t have to go away across to the City Hospital and I got my investigation much quicker. I couldn’t praise the staff enough, they were very kind and efficient.”
Consultant cardiologist Christine Hughes, who is responsible for the new service, said: “On our first day we did investigations for eight out-patients and for two in patients, who otherwise would have had to remain in hospital until Tuesday or Wednesday next week. It’s much better for the patients,” she added.
Belfast City Health Trust stated the reason for closure was a shortage of staff at the department, yet the A&E remained open for an extra month – after it was meant to close on October 1.
The closure has been described as ‘temporary’, but Dr Stevens, Belfast Health Trust’s medical director was unable to give any guarantees that the A&E would open again.
Director of Hospital Services for the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, Mr McGoran said: “We would have liked more time to prepare for these changes but that hasn't been possible.
“We have been working closely with colleagues in the Belfast Trust and Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to ensure that we meet the needs of our patients during this time.
“We are putting in two additional 20-bed medical wards.
“The first ward will not open until the second week of November and the second ward will open in the first week in December.
“We are recruiting additional staff, including consultants, nurses and domestic staff, and the Health & Social Care Board has given a commitment of £3.5m to support additional capacity,” he added.