Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

He's listened, now Poots must act

If Health Minister Edwin Poots had any doubts about the severity of the problems in the province's accident and emergency departments, then the testimony of nurses working at the coalface will have given him plenty of food for thought. These were powerful and emotional accounts of the pressures facing staff and their concerns over the quality of care they can deliver to patients.

In recent times this newspaper has been critical of Mr Poots and his department in the response to what is evidently a crisis in emergency care, whether he likes that description or not.

Too often it has taken strong warnings from medical supervisory bodies to get action, even though the problems have been well highlighted previously. But on this occasion we must give credit to the minister for his performance at yesterday's Royal College of Nursing emergency care summit.

He went to deliver a speech, but also stayed to listen to the nurses. It was, by all accounts, a respectful meeting even if the nurses made their points forcefully.

And the picture they painted was a disturbing one, with the pressures so intense that patients even have to be taken off trolleys to allow more ill ones to take their place. Others have to stay in ambulances until space can be found to treat them.

This is an intolerable situation and Mr Poots must take the nurses' accounts on board. While his blueprint for improving the health service, Transforming Your Care, may be sound theoretically, the problems are so intense on the ground that it is proving difficult to lay the foundations for change.

The minister has taken a good first step in listening to those who work in emergency care on a daily basis, and some of his ministerial colleagues should follow his example listening before they act. However, the acid test for Mr Poots will come when he decides how to ease the pressures in A&E departments. Can he simultaneously lessen the burden on staff while improving the care given to patients?

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