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Northern Ireland hospital crisis only started, says top doctor

Dr Ian Crawford, who has issued a grim prediction about patient safety
Dr Ian Crawford, who has issued a grim prediction about patient safety

By Lisa Smyth

The crisis facing Northern Ireland's hospitals is likely to deteriorate further, a leading emergency care doctor has warned.

Dr Ian Crawford issued a grim prediction about patient safety after a senior medic spoke out about the conditions being endured by staff and patients in the emergency department (ED) at Antrim Area Hospital.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed that a consultant at Antrim Area Hospital warned patients in a crowded waiting room to expect lengthy waits for treatment as he only had eight doctors available.

Last night, Dr Crawford, Vice President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) in Northern Ireland, said there aren't enough hospital and community beds or nurses in Northern Ireland to cope with demand.

He also revealed that 340 people waited longer than 12 hours in EDs on Tuesday.

"The narrative in the Belfast Telegraph is one which will resonate in general terms with our ED teams and their patients across Northern Ireland," he said.

"Over a third of our patients currently spend longer than four hours in our EDs, with 18,110 patients spending longer than 12 hours in our EDs in the six months from April to September 2019 - a year on year increase of 101%."

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He said problems being experienced are "virtually entirely attributable to factors out of the control of our ED teams".

Dr Crawford said the growing number of people attending emergency care departments is a result of the growing and ageing population. He said the situation is being exacerbated by a number of failings, including difficulties accessing GP and hospital appointments and end of life care.

Despite more people requiring hospital admission, Dr Crawford said the number of hospital beds has been cut by 30% since 2005/06.

At the same time, bed blocking has become more of a problem due to insufficient community care packages.

"The outrun of this is that bed occupancy is running at, or operationally beyond, 100% across many of our hospital sites in core specialties such as general internal medicine and care of the elderly, when the widely accepted standard is 85%," he said.

"Consequently there is a lack of patient flow through our hospitals and onwards into the community, with the majority of our patients referred for hospital admission spending long periods of time in our EDs awaiting beds on wards.

"When the majority, or all, of the rooms and cubicles in our EDs are occupied by patients awaiting beds on wards, then there is physically no appropriate space to assess further patients."

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