SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan calls for 'immediate intervention' to address Altnagelvin Emergency Department 'chaos'

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan has called for immediate intervention to address concerns at the Altnagelvin A&E.
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Mr. Durkan said that over the weekend of August 18-20 it had been necessary to close specific areas within the ED, including the Ambulance Offload area as well as one of the assessment and treatment areas, due to staff shortages.

Earlier this month the Permanent Secretary for Health, Peter May confirmed work had commenced on The Review of Urgent and Emergency Care and that the development of a new build for the ED at Altnagelvin Hospital is progressing.

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He did however maintain that overcrowding within EDs were not as a result of poor staffing levels but rather poor flow into the hospital and community.

Altnagelvin Hospital.Altnagelvin Hospital.
Altnagelvin Hospital.

The Foyle MLA said: “The situation within Altnagelvin Emergency Department is fast spinning out of control, urgent intervention is required to ensure the hospital is adequately resourced, especially as we head into the winter months. The partial closure of emergency care in recent weeks is indicative of a service in slow motion collapse.”

He added that staff ‘are past breaking point- they’re broken’ and said the situation has ‘now escalated from crisis to chaos’.

Mr. Durkan urged the DUP to end their boycott of Stormont while acknowledging a restored Executive would not be a panacea to the problems facing the health service.

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But he said ‘a return would be a step in the right direction to tackle the issue of agency spending and focus on the recruitment and retention of permanent staff’.

In a response to Mr. Durkan, the Western Trust said: “Due to unfilled Nursing shifts in ED at Altnagelvin over recent weeks, there have been occasions when it was not possible to allocate staff to all clinical areas within the department.

"Therefore, to manage this situation, it was necessary to focus on care delivery within the areas where we could maintain safe and appropriate staffing levels.

"The unfilled shifts were caused by a combination of vacancies, planned and unplanned leave and reduced uptake of shifts by agencies. Our priority was to ensure patients were assessed and treated safely and appropriately.”

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They added: “We are acutely aware of the continuing challenges on our Emergency Departments. Emergency Departments across Northern Ireland remain under extreme pressure with increasing attendances, as well as ongoing staffing shortages.”

The spokesperson continued: ““In the Western Trust when we learn of examples where care falls below the standard we expect, we review the circumstances and explore ways to improve care in the future. The Trust also strives to develop ways in which we can improve patient flow through our ED, to wards and onward to discharge. We are currently in the process of finalising plans for winter alongside other regional health and social care partners, acknowledging that the pressures felt on the health service are now seen across the year.”

The spokesperson outlined how the Trust is ‘undertaking focused work specific to nurse recruitment to both the Altnagelvin and South West Acute Hospital Emergency Departments as part of our workforce stabilisation strategy’.

This work is aimed at increasing the number of permanent staff, reducing agency and temporary staff, and improving the resilience of the service overall.

“We are indebted to our staff who work in the Emergency Departments at Altnagelvin Hospital and the South West Acute Hospital. They endure these challenges on a daily basis and work tirelessly for their patients in extremely difficult conditions.”