Patients with minor ailments impacting on ‘real emergencies’ at A&E

Altnagelvin Hospital's A &E entrance (right).

Altnagelvin Hospital's A &E entrance (right).

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The Western Trust has warned that a “significant number” of people turning up at Accident & Emergency with minor issues are diverting staff from real emergencies.

Local people have been urged to “think twice” before arriving at the Emergency Department at Altnagelvin Hospital.

The post-Christmas warning was issued this week as staff at the hospital continue to deal with an outbreak of the nororvirus winter vomiting bug.

A spokesperson for the Western Trust said: “Emergency Departments provide the highest level of emergency care for patients, especially those with sudden and acute illness or severe trauma.

“Saving lives is the priority for everyone working in Emergency Department. Minor ailments such as colds and sore throats do not require treatment in an Emergency Department.

“There is a significant number of people attending our Emergency Departments with minor conditions and they are diverting highly trained doctors and nurses away from the job of helping people who are real emergencies.

“Think twice before coming to the Emergency Department and only come here if you have a serious and urgent condition.”

He added: “There are other services available like Minor Injuries, GP or GP Out of Hours and Pharmacies that can help you, so please think carefully before choosing the right one.”

Earlier this month, the Chief Executive of the Western Trust said a new Emergency Department was needed at Altnagelvin Hospital to deal with congestion.

Elaine Way was speaking as it emerged dozens of patients had to wait over 12 hours at Accident and Emergency during the month of October.

There were a total of 30 breaches of guidelines which state no patient should be waiting longer than 12 hours.

In terms of the four-hours target set for patients to be seen at the Emergency Department, the Trust performance fell from 77 per cent in September to 73 per cent in October.

The figures were revealed at the Western Health and Social Care Trust’s December board meeting.

Trust Chief Executive Elaine Way said: “I am concerned at the number of 12 hour breaches we are having in the Western Trust.”

She also made reference to a recent inspection of the Emergency Department and other wards at Altnagelvin by health watchdog the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority.

While the inspectors reported positive findings in the other two wards they inspected, they reported back that the Emergency Department was under-staffed during busy periods and that those working there were “tired, burnt out and stressed.

“They were reflecting what we know,” Ms Way said. “Staff are dealing with increasing numbers of really sick patients in a confined environment.

“The physical congestion can’t properly be addressed until we have a new, physical Emergency Department.

“We are working very hard to address issues on an ongoing basis as they arise,” she added.

Geraldine McKay, Trust Director of Acute Services, concurred that the Trust was not surprised by any of the recommendations adding that 13 of the 36 made by RQIA have already been completed.

“We had started long before RQIA came in,” she said, adding that staffing levels were being increased at A&E.

The RQIA reported findings after carrying out an unannounced inspection at Altnagelvin back in July.

The report praised the work that was going on in the hospital in terms of best practice and patient care, and the commitment of staff right across the areas inspected. However they raised concerns over staffing levels at A&E.

The Trust responded that it has seen the number of patients soar at the Emergency Department by over 6,600 in the period from November 2015 to September 2016.