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Extra staff alone won't solve health crisis claim unions as Poots announces 40 new jobs

By Victoria O'Hara

PLANS to employ an additional 40 nurses to work at the troubled Royal Victoria Hospital have been welcomed by unions – but they warned that extra staff alone will not solve the "health crisis" in Northern Ireland.

Health Minister Edwin Poots made the announcement about employing new nurses as he updated the Assembly on the progress of a review into A&E care at the hospital.

The additional jobs will be in the accident and emergency (A&E) department and the Acute Medical Unit (AMU).

The review was ordered after a major incident was declared at the RVH's A&E in January.

At one stage on January 9, 42 people were waiting on trolleys. Staff described the situation as being "like Beirut".

The review comes as a separate probe is also under way into five deaths at the hospital's emergency department, in which delays in treating the patients may have been a contributory factor.

Mr Poots said he was under "no illusion" that it would take time to make a difference. "I don't expect change to happen overnight – but I do expect progress to be made," he said.

He also told the Assembly the RQIA would provide a final report on its recent inspection in April. This report will include a Quality Improvement Plan, which will set out the proposed actions of the trust.

The minister said, however, that the Belfast Trust had already taken a number of actions, along with the additional nurses – 15 to the ED and 25 to AMU (including changes outlined above).

Ray Rafferty from the Unison union, however, said: "I think the minister needs to own up here and say that he has let the service run down, that there is a shortage of beds, and it's more than just a question of supplying 40 nurses to resolve the problem."

Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, said they welcomed the statement but agreed "much work still needs to be done".

Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin, chairman of the Stormont Health Committee, said the extra nurses would relieve some of the pressure on staffing levels.

"However, the minister still has a huge hill to climb in terms of restoring public confidence in the health system," she said. It was also mentioned that a major summit, hosted by the College of Emergency Medicine, will be held in Northern Ireland on April 9.

In the written statement, Mr Poots added that there had been an improvement in the number of 12-hour breaches.

From September 2013 to January 2014, 558 patients waited longer than 12 hours compared to 2,248 during the same period last year, a reduction of 75%.

SDLP health spokesman Fearghal McKinney said the Health Minister's actions would not address core pressures and the crisis of confidence in the Health Service.

"He is beginning to recognise that there is a problem, and that is in stark contrast to his comments in January," he said.

"But the problems are deeper than waiting lists and go to the heart of decision-making and accountability in the Health Service."

MEASURES IMPLEMENTED BY THE BELFAST TRUST TO ADDRESS ISSUES AT RVH

A number of actions have already been taken at the Royal Victoria Hospital by the trust. These include:

* An urgent review of nurse and medical staffing levels in both the Emergency Department (ED) and the Acute Medical Unit (AMU) was completed and resulted in 40 additional nurses being appointed: 15 to ED; 25 to AMU.

* Trying to identify ways to improve the flow of patients out of the ED and to and from the AMU.

* Reviewing the timings of key clinical meetings to ensure that speciality triage decisions are taken as early as possible.

* Finalising plans to implement an electronic patient tracking system as quickly as possible.

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