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We’re at breaking point, warns Northern Ireland nursing director

By Anna Maguire

“Stop trying to make the unworkable work.” That is the view of Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, on the current state of the health system.

Ms Smyth contacted The Belfast Telegraph after this newspaper revealed the reality of waiting times at Northern Ireland’s A&E departments.

In a special investigation, health correspondent Lisa Smyth spent last weekend at three of the province’s busiest casualty wards.

She witnessed drunks attacking and abusing staff — clogging up an already stretched system.

At Antrim Area Hospital, some patients faced overnight waits for treatment. One woman who waited at least six-and-a-half hours for medical attention was suffering with chest pains, a pain in her arm and a swollen and discoloured finger.

Writing in The Belfast Telegraph today, Ms Smyth said nurses are operating in a financially-driven system that appears to care little about the impact on patient care.

Struggling with unmanageable caseloads and staff shortages — nurses are either not being heard or are being ignored, as they are left to apologise for a system that is “not working”, she said.

Waiting times in A&E have come under the spotlight after it was revealed that a woman with a suspected stroke waited for 34 hours on a trolley at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

The nursing leader said patients with chronic conditions often have no other option for care than through emergency departments.

She said: “These departments are not designed to provide facilities to enable dignified care for patients such as personal care, toileting, eating and drinking.

“Emergency departments are for the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, discharge or admission of patients.

“These issues are compounded by inadequate nurse staffing levels to deal with such a high level of demand.

“We pay lip service to providing services that are patient and client focused.

“Nurses are operating within a financially driven system that appears to care little about the impact upon frontline services, patient care or patient experience.

“A system that de-humanises care, is preoccupied by targets, trolley waits, delayed discharges, waiting lists, length of stay and breaches. A culture that describes cuts in staffing as staff productivity, vacancy and back fill control measures, slowing recruitment or holding vacancies.

“Those responsible need to say it as it is. Staff productivity in nursing has meant leaving nurses working in teams short-staffed, or with caseloads that are unmanageable.”

She added that nurses are left to pick up the pieces when cuts take effect.

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