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Health crisis: Medics hit out at Belfast Trust as 'axed' appointments go ahead

Health bosses have been accused of mismanagement and misleading the public after it emerged that clinics and appointments at Belfast hospitals had not been cancelled.

Doctors and nurses have been working their usual hours and seeing patients at outpatient clinics and cancer diagnostic tests have also been carried out over the past two days.

This is despite the fact that the Belfast Trust issued a statement to the media on Friday afternoon saying it had been forced to cancel 10,000 outpatient appointments and day case procedures this week.

Martin Dillon, the chief executive of the Trust, said on Monday that cancer diagnostic tests would not be carried out this week and it was possible that some patients' diagnoses may be delayed as a result.

However, it has now emerged that cancer diagnostic tests have been carried out on patients this week.

The Belfast Trust has refused to say whether it carried out any type of assessment to establish whether it could see any patients this week.

It also refused to say why it only revealed it was cancelling clinics through the media and did not contact patients directly.

Alliance Party health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw said: "How can this situation have been allowed to happen?

"It appears to me that it has turned into a public relations exercise by the Department of Health and Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

"The healthcare employees should not be used as scapegoats in this mess."

A senior nurse working in the Trust told this newspaper last night: "I only found out first thing on Monday morning that clinics were supposed to have been cancelled.

"However, the Trust only made this public through a statement issued to the media and didn't contact patients directly, so people have been turning up.

"Many of my patients are elderly and don't use social media or didn't see the news, or there are others who are foreign nationals, so everyone turned up as normal.

"I've seen every single one of my patients as normal today and yesterday because I am working as normal.

"It does make you wonder why this particular action has been taken by the Trust.

"It seems like it was a knee-jerk reaction.

"I don't think they thought we would go out on strike. I think they panicked and cancelled everything when they didn't need to.

"There is really poor communication from the top down in the Trust. They fire-fight instead (of plan). If there was good planning in place and proper investment of resources, that wouldn't need to be the case."

Pat Cullen, director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Northern Ireland, said the move had left nurses furious.

"RCN members believe that the information announced to patients via the media on Friday afternoon has been found to be misleading," she added.

"A number of nurses have approached the RCN over the past few days to express deep concern and dismay at the fact that patients have been told not to attend appointments.

"However, those patients who have turned up for appointments have been seen in the normal way by our nurse members, who have always made it clear they would be on duty as usual, providing care and treatment for patients.

"It is unfortunate that this miscommunication by the Trust has resulted in many patients missing out on their appointments unnecessarily."

The Trust said it had not been able to guarantee the required level of staffing to provide outpatient appointments.

A spokesman explained: "The decision to cancel appointments remains the only responsible course of action in the circumstances. Otherwise, large number of patients would be attending in circumstances where we could not guarantee they would be provided.

"The safety and wellbeing of our patients remains our primary concern and all actions taken have been carried out to protect patients and staff."

Belfast Telegraph