The City hospital’s Accident & Emergency unit has now closed its doors — without ceremony — for a supposedly ‘temporary’ period.
As of 8am on 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.
Belfast City Health Trust stated the reason for closure was a shortage of staff at the department.
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.
Dr Paul Darragh, chair of the British Medical Association’s Council in NI said: “The whole situation could have been avoided with proper workforce planning.
“The A&E will never reopen. We are in the middle of a health and social care review that is talking about reducing the number of A&Es in Northern Ireland.”
It is expected that the Royal, the Mater and the Ulster 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 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 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 over 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.
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.”
Ex-Health Minister and local MLA Michael McGimpsey said the closure was a betrayal of the people of south Belfast. He said it should not have happened before the upgrade of the A&E at the Ulster and the new critical care unit at the Royal Hospital had been completed.
“The credibility of the Department has been damaged by this move as nobody in south Belfast believes that the closure is in any way temporary. We believe it is closed and closed for good.
“In my opinion this decision is purely economic and not based on what is best for patient care,” he added.