Belfast Telegraph

Belfast hospital staff struggle as A&E numbers soar by 40%

By Lisa Smyth

Northern Ireland’s main emergency department is dealing with unprecedented numbers of patients — with staff struggling to cope with the demand on the service.

Figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph show that over 3,000 people have turned up at the doors of the Royal Victoria Hospital's A&E this month, a massive increase of almost 40% from last year.

On average, 214 people went to the casualty unit every day between March 1 and 14.

This is 58 more attendances every day, or a 39% rise, compared to the same period last year — when Belfast City Hospital’s A&E was still open.

The figures include a 77-year-old man with motor neurone disease who spent 22 hours on a trolley in the clinical outcomes unit of the A&E, where he died unnoticed on March 5.

They also include an 86-year-old woman who spent 34 hours on a trolley in the casualty unit after suffering a suspected stroke.

The figures released by the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust also showed there was a rise in patient numbers at the Royal’s A&E last month compared to attendance figures in February last year.

During 2011, 4,508 people were admitted to the casualty unit at the Royal but this rose to 6,280 in February this year — an increase of almost 40%.

When health officials made the controversial decision to shut the A&E at Belfast City Hospital at the end of last year they gave reassurances it would improve patient safety and conditions for staff.

However, the number and length trolley waits at the Royal A&E have soared since the beginning of February, prompting angry union officials to claim they warned the changes to emergency medicine would put lives at risk.

West Belfast Sinn Fein MLA Sue Ramsey demanded that the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust and Health Minister provide evidence the rise in attendances is not related to the closure of the A&E at the City Hospital.

She said: “I had a meeting with the Belfast Trust and they told me they were getting new patients in the doors at the Royal A&E every two minutes at one stage.

“The ordinary man on the street needs reassurance that this is nothing to do with the City Hospital closing and Edwin Poots and the trust have to show us this isn’t the case.

“Someone said to me this is just normal winter pressures, but look out the window — it isn’t winter — so what is the reason for the increase?”

Ms Ramsey, who is also chair of the Stormont health committee, added: “The situation in the A&E is of great concern to our constituents and we are here to ensure that the hospitals provide a service that is fit for purpose.”

Meanwhile, the trust is remaining tight-lipped after a blistering attack on the care of the 77-year-old man who died in the Royal A&E on March 5.

His widow has said she was angry her partner died with “no dignity” and revealed A&E staff lost her telephone number and had to send police to her door to inform her of the death.

His son has said his father was lucid just hours before he died.

No one from the trust was available to comment on the claims as an investigation continues into the circumstances surrounding his death.

Background

Belfast City Hospital's emergency department closed its doors to patients at 8am on November 1 last year. Bosses at the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust said the changes were necessary to improve patient safety as there were not enough doctors to cover three separate A&E units. They said reducing the number of A&Es would allow them to concentrate staff on two sites.

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