Royal Victoria Hospital delays in treatment: Edwin Poots offers apology and orders probe
Health Minister Edwin Poots has offered an apology to the families of patients whose delay in treatment may have played a part in their death.
It comes as he confirmed his department would review "serious adverse incidents" in Northern Ireland's hospitals before 2013.
It emerged this week that a delay in treatment may have been a "significant factor" in the death of five patients at the Royal Victoria Hospital's A&E last year.
Mr Poots, who announced the review into possible other cases during a Stormont health committee meeting on Wednesday, said the probe would go back over a "number of years".
Responding to questions over whether he owed the families an apology, he said: "We don't want to cause anybody hurt. And I would be very happy to apologise to any family we have caused hurt to. Because that is not what we are about.
"We are about providing care for people. We are about meeting people's needs and where we have fallen short of that we need to identify what went wrong and ensure it doesn't happen again."
The daughter of one of the five victims has spoken of chaotic scenes on the night her mother attended the A&E department.
Collette Macruagian told the BBC: "Mum had waited on a chair for about five hours. She had been triaged incorrectly and what I mean by that was that no one took account of the fact she was on warfarin.
"It just seemed to be one error after another that has been accepted by the Royal. They have apologised for their negligence.
"I feel like the systems did fail and I feel that there wasn't appropriate resources, and unfortunately the A&E on that night and probably on numerous other occasions wasn't the safe place it should be," she said.
It also emerged yesterday that up to six consultants at the Royal feel so under pressure that they are planning to quit.
It was claimed that three were leaving the country to work elsewhere, one was off on long-term stress leave, and two were taking early retirement.
Mr Poots briefed the Northern Ireland Executive yesterday about the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) review on Emergency Departments.
It was launched following the Major Incident at the RVH A&E on January 8.
He said if more funding was needed for the Royal Victoria Hospital it would be made available.
Mr Poots added that he had "no doubt" that Executive colleagues would back him to ensure that it would be available.
It has also emerged that pressured staff at the Royal Victoria Hospital demanded to "stop the clock" in order to prevent breaching A&E waiting time targets.
During the health committee meeting on Wednesday, chief executive of the RQIA, Dr David Stewart, revealed that medics made the admissions in an attempt to give the perception of improved performance.
Dr Stewart said: "Staff told us they were being put under pressure at times to move patients out of the department quite close to the breach time."
More than 100 medics were interviewed during a RQIA review of the emergency service.
UUP MLA Roy Beggs asked him if he had come across any reports of misreporting of times.
Dr Stewart said: "We didn't go into detailed analysis but people said there have been times when they've been asked to 'stop the clock' or those kinds of terms."
Mr Beggs said he was shocked by the claims.
"The proportion of patients seen within four hours at the RVH is the lowest of all A&E units in Northern Ireland. It is astonishing to think that frontline staff may have come under pressure to conceal that it was even worse."
Last November a College of Emergency Medicine report said the pressures caused by understaffing and lack of funding were "unsustainable" at the RVH emergency department.
Dr Clifford Mann (left), president of the College of Emergency Medicine, said: "It is clear that a situation that has been developing for some years is going to take some time to resolve.
"It is not simply just an A&E issue, but a whole system-wide failure."
A summit of the region's key healthcare stakeholders is due to take place in April, said Dr Mann.