Northern Ireland Emergency Department could close over staff shortages
A Northern Ireland hospital has warned that it could be forced to temporarily close its emergency department because of staff shortages.
Health chiefs, however, have said the move would be a last resort.
The Southern Health and Social Care Trust Board were updated on the staffing challenges facing the Emergency Department at Newry’s Daisy Hill Hospital at a public meeting on Thursday.
The trust said it remains "committed to maintaining the emergency department" but that there continues to be a shortage of permanent senior medical staff.
It said if this continued it would be forced to suspend the service.
In a statement the trust said: "The service currently remains vulnerable to the short notice withdrawal of senior medical cover, particularly during the summer months when there is a less secure supply of locum consultants.
"Therefore, if there is any risk to patient safety due to lack of senior medical cover at night, the ED will temporarily suspend the service until suitable medical cover becomes available.
"This would be a last resort, and the trust is making every effort to avoid any reduction in hours in the short term."
The trust said that the current service is support mainly by locum medical staff and the "continuing goodwill of clinical staff across the Trust".
Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy has requested an urgent meeting with the Chief Executive of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust over the threat of suspension of the service.
Mr Murphy said: "The Trust have employed enough senior staff in recent times to ensure there is adequate cover in both Daisy Hill and Craigavon.
“It is their responsibility to deliver 24-hour cover in the Emergency Departments, and the loss of services is not the answer.
He added: “The suggested temporary suspension of access to services at Daisy Hill A&E Unit is already promoting real concerns that the Emergency Department could be further downgraded, increasing the chances that other services will be whittled away in turn.
“This must not be an option for consideration. The Trust must provide adequate cover for both Daisy Hill and Craigavon."
DUP MLA William Irwin said every effort must be made to maintain the service.
Mr Irwin said: “It is absolutely vital that every effort is made to fully maintain the Accident & Emergency services in Daisy Hill and to ensure that people within the area have a fully staffed and resourced A&E to attend.
“I am aware that work is ongoing in terms of maintaining the full complement of staff in order to operate the service without risk of disruption. However the Trust has stated the fact it relies heavily on locum medical staff presents issues in terms of guaranteed non-disrupted service provision.”
“Whilst patient safety is absolutely paramount, I would be concerned by any temporary suspension of the A&E service and what that would mean for users should that event arise. I am aware that many attempts have been made by the hospital to attract senior medical staff permanently in order to lessen the reliance on locum cover, however this hasn’t been successful.”
“It is imperative that efforts continue in securing full time A&E Consultant provision at Daisy Hill that can be built upon and that will remove this current uncertainty.”