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Edwin Poots: Sort out A&Es or you'll be sacked

By Lisa Smyth

Under-fire Health Minister Edwin Poots has issued a tough ultimatum to Northern Ireland’s failing health chiefs — shape up or ship out.

He warned he will take control of hospitals and top health service managers will face the sack if they do not get to grips with the crisis unfolding in our A&Es.

Mr Poots stressed: “We can step in and take over running of hospitals. From the perspective of the senior management in those trusts, it would be abject failure for those managers and they would no longer be required.”

The minister has come under pressure to act as the health service has been rocked by a succession of shocking cases, including the unnoticed death of an elderly patient at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital A&E earlier this month.

He has now unveiled a series of measures designed to slash the number of patients waiting longer than 12 hours in our emergency departments. He said he wants to see 95% of patients attending casualty units admitted or discharged within four hours and has given trusts three months to cut trolley waits or the people in charge will face the consequences.

“Over the course of the next number of months I want to see a shift taking place,” he explained.

“I don’t expect the 95% to be met overnight but I would expect over the next three months we will make considerable progress and I would like to drive 12-hour waits out of the system altogether. I will make it very clear to the people responsible for the emergency department they need to deliver.”

Casualty units across Northern Ireland have struggled to cope with the number of patients turning up at their doors in recent months — with the A&Es at the Royal Victoria, Antrim Area and Ulster Hospitals particularly hardest hit.

At the height of the crisis, a new patient was arriving at the Royal Victoria Hospital’s emergency department every two minutes and up to 50 people were on trolleys.

Ray Rafferty from Unison said: “It was mayhem. The trolleys were lined up next to each other and they were actually touching one another because there wasn’t enough space.”

As a result of the crisis, Mr Poots has established a task force — led by a senior figure from the Health & Social Care Board — who will work with the trusts to improve services in our A&Es.

Among the measures put in place to drive down waiting times are:

  • increasing the number of surgical procedures as day cases instead of inpatient procedures
  • ensuring there are sufficient ward rounds every day to increase the number of patients who are discharged, meaning beds are freed up for patients who have been admitted to A&E
  • increasing the number of patients discharged by lunchtime
  • allowing senior nurses to discharge patients over weekends and public holidays.

Mr Poots said he is also considering introducing fines for people who waste scarce NHS resources.

“This is difficult because if you have someone with chest pain it could be a heart attack or it could be indigestion,” he said.

“A doctor would be able to make a judgment very easy but people have to be able to go to A&E to be diagnosed and they shouldn’t be discouraged from seeking help.”

However, Mr Poots said he will not tolerate examples where people who clearly do not require medical assistance turning up at our A&Es or calling out an ambulance.

Proposals set to further devastate ailing service

More hospital wards are to close, 4% of nursing posts will be axed and cancer patients will wait longer for treatment under radical plans to save money, it has emerged.

Cash-strapped health bosses have put together a series of proposals which are expected to further devastate the ailing health service — if the Health Minister gives them the green light.

However, many of the proposals are at odds with Edwin Poots’ blueprint for the future of the health service in Northern Ireland — Transforming Your Care — and threaten to put some of the most vulnerable members of our society at risk.

A leading public service union has called for a meeting with the First and Deputy First Ministers, Mr Poots, the chief executive of the Health & Social Care Board and heads of the six health trusts.

Unison has warned the crisis plaguing our A&Es will become permanent if health bosses press ahead with their cost-cutting plans.

Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing, said she cannot see how such drastic proposals can be implemented without shutting wards and axing services.

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