Winter is bad time for health shake-up
A south Belfast MLA has questioned whether A&E services in Belfast will be able to cope with rising needs over the winter months.
Fearghal McKinney, the SDLP's health spokesman, has revealed plans to close the GP Assessment and Admission Centre on Ward 5 North at the City Hospital, and move staff to the Royal Victoria Hospital.
The MLA said reports of the closure had raised serious concern among constituents.
"They are moving staff from City Hospital to the Royal to beef up their winter provision for Accident and Emergency – that's what I understand the position to be.
"In effect, while the GP (centre) retains some level, they are taking staff away from it to further provisions elsewhere. I don't have any idea of the numbers," he added, "but I've had it confirmed with them, and while they are saying that, it's a diminution of the service at the City, and moving it up to the Royal."
GP Assessment and Admission Centres were set up to ease the burden on A&Es, as patients can be transferred to them through their GP, bypassing A&E.
A spokeswoman for the Belfast Trust told the Community Telegraph the GP Assessment Centre at City Hospital will not be closed, but moved to Ward 6 North with a supplementary unit on Ward 7 in the Royal opening next month.
"A number of the existing (ward) 5 North staff will remain and join the 6 North team."
"It is proposed," she said, "that these beds and the associated 5 North staff will transfer to an available area within the Royal Victoria. Whilst some staff will be relocated from 5 North to the Royal Victoria site." The spokeswoman also said "the current complement of nursing and medical staff will not be reduced".
She said the service would be enhanced by increasing the scope of beds available to patients admitted to hospital through this channel. "Patients referred by their GPs who require admission using this service will now have access to all specialist areas on both the Belfast City and Royal Victoria hospital sites," said the Belfast Trust.
Mr McKinney has questioned the timing of the move.
He said: "Major decisions like this should be taken at other times of the year. We're heading into a crisis and we need to make sure that with potential bad weather coming we have a full range of services across site.
"What we need to do is maintain facility and service for people. Services of this nature are best rationalised in late spring or early summer when demand is lowest."
The Belfast Trust restated its commitment to improving patients' care, adding the changes relate to the need to "improve patient flow to, and through, all specialist areas which contribute to care of patients from the point of admission to discharge."