The chief executive of the beleaguered Northern Health Trust is stepping aside as part of a shake-up launched after long waiting times for emergency care were recorded.
Sean Donaghy is taking up a new post within the NHS in Northern Ireland and the health minister has appointed two senior executives to the trust: nursing expert Mary Hinds, who will try to improve the record at Antrim and Causeway Hospitals, and Paul Cummings, who will oversee corporate management.
The trust has faced criticism over long waiting times for emergency treatment, with regular breaches to its four and 12-hour targets.
Mr Donaghy said: "I am confident that the new team will have the support of all in the trust in seeking to resolve the difficulties it has faced over many years. I believe they will benefit from the work that I and my colleagues in the trust have been doing in difficult circumstances over my time in the trust. The staff are rightly proud of the services throughout the trust and I want to acknowledge their clear commitment to improving emergency care waiting times for the benefit of patients."
Health Minister Edwin Poots said the move, mutually agreed with Mr Donaghy, was aimed at enhancing leadership in a high-priority area. The Northern Trust has come under fire for breaches to its emergency care waiting time targets. Last year the chairman of the trust, Jim Stewart, was sacked by the minister, the first time that a senior health manager has been removed from his post.
For successive winters, Antrim Area Hospital experienced excessive trolley waits for emergency care. Mr Stewart said the A&E department was too small and dealing with double the number of people it was originally built for. Interim medical director Dr Peter Flanagan, intends to retire but will take over a temporary role until a permanent replacement is appointed. Mr Donaghy will become a regional director at the Health and Social Care Board.
The appointments were made following emerging findings from the Turnaround and Support Team which was appointed by the minister last year to help the trust improve performance. Ms Hinds will become senior director of the improvement effort while Mr Cummings will be senior director of corporate management.
Mr Poots said: "These appointments are being made as part of a programme of intensive support that will be provided to the trust to ensure the necessary turnaround is achieved in the interests of patient care. My overriding concern is to ensure that the trust can meet the needs of the population it serves and can provide acceptable experiences for patients, safe, high quality services, and a resolution of the problem of long waiting in the emergency department."
The Royal College of Nursing said the new management arrangements provided an opportunity to address long-standing concerns over staffing levels and workload.
Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Northern Ireland, said: "Over the past year, we have been consistently highlighting problems that are symptomatic of a system that is not working, and that appeared to pay little regard to patient care or experience."