Belfast Telegraph

Catalogue of criticisms that health chiefs just couldn't ignore

BY VICTORIA O'HARA

At breaking point, stretched to its limits, ineffective and unsafe.

That is how Antrim Area Hospital's A&E was branded for the last two years after it consistently failed to meet targets.

There were negative headlines of staff under immense pressure and patient safety concerns.

The unit had come under strain since the closure of the casualty departments at Mid Ulster and Whiteabbey hospitals in 2010.

The hospital, built to cater for 30,000 admissions a year, was reportedly treating upwards of 72,000 patients.

A damning indictment came in 2011 from Dr Brian Patterson, the former chairman of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, after it emerged 2,426 patients sustained 12-hour waits in the A&E in a 12-month period.

"I worked at the Mater Hospital A&E during the Troubles and nothing I witnessed there is worse than the situation at Antrim Area Hospital," he said.

Further concerns of staff being unable to cope came in May 2012 during an outbreak of gastroenteritis at Antrim Area.

More than 40 people were struck down by the vomiting and diarrhoea bug over a number of days, including 30 patients and around 12 members of staff.

The union Unison said the already stretched workforce was being pushed to its limit.

In May 2012 two independent reports criticised practices at Antrim Area.

English GP Dr Ian Rutter, who spent time observing practice and penned one report, said "aspects of patient care lack dignity".

The second report, from Mary Hinds of the Health and Social Care Board, identified low staff morale caused by a culture of "rules, targets and protocols".

Both highlighted a catalogue of failings in patient care, and branded the hospital's culture bureaucratic. The Northern Trust said it fully accepted the findings.

Patient safety in the trust was also raised on a number of occasions over the last 18 months.

An investigation was launched into the circumstances surrounding one child's death in April.

The child was transferred from Antrim A&E to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

The Northern Trust said that due to staff pressures it was 20 minutes before the child was triaged or prioritised.

The trust's target is 15 minutes.

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