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The challenges we as medics all face for the good of our health service

By Dr John D Woods

Recruitment and retention of qualified medical staff in emergency medicine is a challenge affecting communities in the UK.

Apart from the often highly stressful environment, much of the work is done out of hours – evenings, through the night and weekends – and so it has a substantial impact on family and personal lives.

In Northern Ireland, recruitment may be more difficult because of under-investment in encouraging excellence versus other parts of the UK.

Last year, an independent report found that the pressures faced by accident and emergency staff at Belfast's Royal Victoria and Mater hospitals were unsustainable. This followed an inspection carried out by the College of Emergency Medicine, which also said that the issues faced by medics in the Belfast Trust are probably worse than anywhere else in the UK.

The BMA in Northern Ireland is committed to ensuring outcomes for patients requiring emergency care are equal over all days of the week.

This model of seven-day working will inevitably mean consolidating services on fewer sites, rather than dilute expertise across a greater number of sites.

This will not only provide safe and sustainable services, but it also help address the need for a healthy work/life balance for healthcare staff.

Ultimately, patients will get better emergency services – even if they have to travel a little further.

However, clearly the investment is required to make this a reality and, if the Government doesn't work with the BMA to create this seven-day model, then medical roles here become less and less attractive, with more and more young doctors choosing to emigrate to places such as Australia or New Zealand.

Patients expect and deserve a professional, fully-staffed service when they need it most.

Doctors want the same. And it is, therefore, incumbent on those with the responsibility for running these services to ensure that they have the right people in the right place at the right time to deliver the service we all need.

Dr John D Woods chairs the consultants committee of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland

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