Warning over A&E infection risks
Some patients risk catching an infection if overcrowding of hospital emergency departments in Northern Ireland is not addressed, nurses have warned.
The increased numbers of casualties coming in is not being matched by efforts to move them to other parts of the hospital or the community for more appropriate treatment , the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said.
However, the organisation accepted that Health Minister Edwin Poots was listening - he attended an emergency care summit in Belfast today - and said the focus needed to be on change.
Nurse Roisin Devlin said: "The pressure we are facing is the volume of patients coming through the door without the back door being open to allow patients to move on."
Pressures on emergency services have been in the spotlight recently, with a major incident declared last month at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
Garrett Martin, deputy director at the RCN, said: "Currently those who need admission are in the department for a longer period of time, so we have a ward full of patients in the middle of an emergency department.
"There are challenges around how those patients can have their treatment carried out in a confidential environment.
"It is an environment that is not fit for purpose, overcrowding, potential for cross-infection, lots of different issues."
He said "whole system" issues needed to be addressed within the health service, not just in the emergency department.
"Our members tell us that the emergency departments are the default for all types of patients, from the less to the more serious," he added.
"It is really the lack of alternatives for people with chronic illnesses where their GP and community services should be available but are not."
He added issues surrounded the funding of community nursing services.
"There is an admission by people over the last number of weeks that we are in a crisis situation but we are certainly in a position now where people have recognised it but are committed to trying to make changes to put it right.
"We don't want to build up fear within the population that services are unsafe but desire to make positive change that can improve the situation because that is what the focus should be on."
Mr Poots said Chief Nursing Officer Charlotte McArdle has been meeting emergency department nurses and it has been agreed that important work will be taken forward which clearly sets out key professional standards for emergency department nursing.
"This will also include work to develop a career pathway for emergency department nurses," he added.
"I look therefore forward to seeing the outcome of this work which will be led by the Emergency Department Nurses Forum."