Call for greater powers for GPs
Giving GPs greater powers to admit patients to hospital would help reduce Accident and Emergency waiting times, doctors have claimed.
Representatives from the British Medical Association (BMA) expressed frustration at not being able to directly refer acutely ill patients to wards without having to go via A&E.
The issue was raised at the BMA's annual Northern Ireland local medical committee conference. GPs made the call in response to ongoing concerns about escalating delays in A&Es, particularly in Belfast.
Last week Health Minister Edwin Poots set up a task force to specifically examine ways to drive down waiting times.
Accident and Emergency departments in Belfast have been under intense pressure since the City Hospital's A&E was closed last year. The issue came to a head recently after a man died while waiting on a trolley in the Royal's A&E.
At the BMA conference, Larne GP Dr Brian Dunn said: "GPs are often best placed to decide when a patient needs admission and we should be allowed to admit acutely ill patients directly to hospitals negating the need for retrograde triage at A&E."
Newry GP Dr Arnie McDowell added: "Overflowing A&E departments could be reduced by allowing GPs to assess acutely ill patients in the community as they have successfully done for many years, to decide whether or not they need admission to hospital."
Announcing the setting up of the action group, Mr Poots said he wanted 95% of A&E patients seen within four hours - currently, 82% are seen within that timescale.
The group will aim to improve discharge procedures, with nurses given more powers to send patients home. It will look at a number of issues linked to waiting times.
Among these will be maximising the amount of surgery that can be done as day cases, increasing ward rounds, and measures to promote discharges earlier in the day, enabling senior nurses to discharge at weekends and public holidays.