Emergency Department under ‘extreme pressure’

Mr Brendan Lavery (on the left) and Mr James Steele, Consultants in the  Emergency Department at  Altnagelvin ,pictured yesterday afternoon at a media briefing on the hospital's Emergency Department's upcoming contingency and winter plans. DER4919GS - 008
Mr Brendan Lavery (on the left) and Mr James Steele, Consultants in the Emergency Department at Altnagelvin ,pictured yesterday afternoon at a media briefing on the hospital's Emergency Department's upcoming contingency and winter plans. DER4919GS - 008

Almost 74,000 patients are expected to have attended Altnagelvin’s Emergency Department over the year to March 2020, it has been confirmed.

The Director of Acute Services in the Western Trust has said that the department has been under ‘extreme pressure’ since the end of July.

Geraldine McKay said there has been a six per cent rise in demand and if this trend continues, they expect to treat 73,778 patients by the end of March 2020. She added that the majority of the patients seen are in the most serious categories and are over 75.

It was confirmed yesterday that as a result of winter pressures, elective, routine inpatient surgery has been cancelled and this decision will not be reviewed until the end of December.

At a briefing yesterday, Brendan Lavery, the lead consultant in emergency medicine, said that the ‘increase in attendances is considerably higher here than elsewhere’. “We are seeing an increase in older patients, children, people with complex illnesses and people travelling to the hospital. For a number of years, our annual attendance was static at around 55,000 patients but that has gone up every year since 2015.”

The Trust said that the emergency department in Altnagelvin is ‘small in scale’ and was built for between 30 to 40 patients at a time. “One night last week we had 93 patients in the department”, Ms McKay revealed. “We are in the process of working on a business case for a whole new emergency department but that won’t happen until 2023-24.”

The new department would be designed to cope with 100,000 patients per year.

The Trust yesterday outlined a number of strategies that have been established to deal with the pressures, including a warning system which requires action from doctors, managers, and community infrastructure.

Ms McKay said they are also looking at increasing capacity at the ambulatory care unit.

Mark Gillespie, assistant director of operations, said they have also increased the amount of doctors in the emergency department to deal with the increase in footfall and have created a hospital ambulance liaison officer (HALO) to free up ambulance crews.

They also outlined an increase in nurses, with 110 new band 5 nurses employed throughout the Trust, which leaves just 39 posts unfilled.

Turning to the industrial action by a number of unions, Ms McKay said: “As a Trust we have contingency plans in place to deal with the industrial action managing the wards and departments on an hour by hour basis. We have not had any major impact as yet.”