A&E bid to recruit GPs branded ‘act of desperation’
The Northern Trust is trying to recruit family doctors to work in the A&E at Antrim Area Hospital following the closure of the casualties at Mid Ulster and Whiteabbey — prompting claims the unit is facing a staffing crisis.
It comes less than three weeks after the doors were closed at Mid Ulster and Whiteabbey A&E departments and has raised serious questions about the safety of patients at Antrim Area Hospital.
The Belfast Telegraph has learned one of the top emergency medicine doctors at the Antrim hospital has sent a letter to all GPs registered with Dalriada Urgent Care to ask them whether they would be willing to help out in the A&E at Antrim at the weekend for the next seven weeks.
The Northern Trust has said it is common practice to employ GPs as locums, but the Belfast Telegraph has been told by a number of doctors working in the trust that they believe Dr Olivia Dornan wrote the letter due to staffing shortages following the closure of Mid Ulster and Whiteabbey hospitals.
Deputy chair of the Stormont health committee Michelle O’Neill said: “This is an act of desperation and it shows Antrim Area Hospital can’t cope. Patients are being put at risk.
“If senior consultants are going to have to scrape around for cover I think that is totally unacceptable. I know of one person who took her mother to Antrim for treatment and she felt she was in the way.
“The system isn’t working. GPs do a great job in the community setting but it is not ideal for them to be working in an A&E department that is clearly struggling to cope.”
The letter was sent three weeks after Dr Dornan told the Belfast Telegraph she was confident there were adequate resources and staff at Antrim.
“The additional work coming to us — we'll have the extra staff and space to deal with it,” she said.
The controversial decision to close the casualty units at Mid Ulster and Whiteabbey hospitals came as a shock to many.
Last month the Northern Trust announced it would downgrade the A&E departments at both hospitals to minor injury units within weeks because of a shortage of doctors. They claimed patient safety was being compromised as a result. However staff, local people, unions and politicians all expressed shock and concern over the sudden decision to push through the closures a year early without any public consultation.
A spokeswoman from the Northern Trust said: “For a number of years it has been common practice to employ GPs who have previously spent time at Antrim Area Hospital A&E during their training as locums. This is to support the A&E department.”