Belfast Telegraph

Belfast health trust chief quits

The chief executive of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust has resigned for a new job in England.

Colm Donaghy held the top post - worth almost £150,000 last year - for almost four years. He recently grappled with increasing pressure on the Royal Victoria Hospital's emergency department and a major incident was called in January when too many patients were left waiting on trolleys.

Mr Donaghy is to become chief executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

"This is not a decision I took lightly. Belfast Health and Social Care Trust is a world-class organisation and there is never a good time to go," he said.

"I have enjoyed my time in Belfast immensely and have had the honour to work with some of the most talented and committed people currently working in the health sector. I sincerely wish them well for the future."

Belfast Trust is the second largest in the UK and responsible for Northern Ireland's main hospital, the Royal, plus the City and the Mater. The Royal is the centre for region-wide specialist medical care in areas such as trauma, cardiac and neurosurgery.

The chief executive has responsibility for the Trust's 20,000 employees, an annual budget of almost £1.3 billion and the services that it delivers to patients and users.

Mr Donaghy has been a key figure in efforts to encourage more use of community-based services and treatment at home to reduce the length of hospital stays and cut costs.

However, the Trust has failed to meet waiting time targets set by Health Minister Edwin Poots, partly because trusts that provide services for the whole of Northern Ireland have a higher number of patients waiting per head of population than those providing more localised services, health department statistics showed.

Since the start of the year the Royal's emergency department has been under growing pressure, with nurses claiming more needs to be done to move patients through to other parts of the hospital and warning infections could be more likely due to overcrowding.

The health authorities have been trying to cut the number of inappropriate attendances at emergency departments by better signposting to alternative out-of-hours services.

In response to breached waiting times at the Royal, Mr Donaghy previously said he would not resign.

He said today: "Health and social care is undergoing tremendous transformational change and Belfast Trust is at the heart of that. The opportunity for Belfast Trust in the future to deliver even better and more innovative services to the people of Belfast and to the regional population is unbounded.

"However, moving to Sussex is an exciting chapter and one that will, no doubt, present me with new challenges - all of which I am looking forward to."

He has worked for the health service for the last 22 years; recently as chief executive of Southern Health and Social Care Trust, and Northern Health and Social Care Trust. He has headed Belfast Trust since 2010.

Peter McNaney, chairman of Belfast Trust, said: "Colm has been a tremendous asset to this organisation and has worked diligently to ensure our patients and clients have received the best possible care.

"Colm's steadfast belief in the ability of our staff and his strong leadership has carried the organisation to its great achievements and through its challenges. We are all deeply indebted to him."

Mr Poots said Mr Donaghy had dedicated his career to date to the Northern Ireland health service.

"As chief executive of the Belfast Trust since 2010, he has demonstrated courageous leadership as well as energy and resilience in undertaking one of the most challenging roles in health and social care. He leaves Northern Ireland with my gratitude and best wishes for the future."

Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin said his replacement faced a significant job.

"The task ahead will involve a significant amount of heavy lifting. Over the past few months we have seen staff placed under inordinate amounts of pressure, trolley waits of over 24 hours, an emergency situation declared in the A&E at the RVH, followed a month later with so-called escalation measures being enacted.

"This is not acceptable and is unsustainable. The minister needs to ensure that this post is filled swiftly and that these and other issues are addressed comprehensively as a matter of urgency."

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Assembly member Roy Beggs said the number of serious adverse hospital incidents across Northern Ireland had increased by 58% since 2011.

There were 383 serious incidents last year compared to 242 in 2011. Recently it emerged that five serious adverse incidents had occurred where delay at the Royal had been a contributory factor, Mr Beggs said.

"The recent major incident at the RVH in January and the subsequent escalation measures last month have demonstrated the strain which our A&Es are working under," he added.

"The upsurge in the number of serious incidents over the last three years appear to demonstrate what many people fear; the system is beginning to buckle and this is having a direct impact on the treatment of patients.

"It's clear the support isn't in place; the budget is inadequate, the staff are overworked and the A&E network is backing up more frequently following the closure of the City A&E and reduction of services in the Downe and Lagan Valley Hospitals."

A Belfast trust spokeswoman said under Mr Donaghy, the organisation had been named best performer in diagnosing Alzheimer's disease and the City Hospital's cancer centre was named one of the top five in the UK. A new children's hospital and maternity hospital in Belfast were also given the go-ahead.

Mr Donaghy has worked to improve supported living for those with dementia and directed efforts to boost the health of border populations. He has also been heavily involved in suicide prevention work.

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