8% hike in A&E attendances with ‘tough winter’ ahead

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Senior Western Trust bosses have warned of a “tough winter” after reporting attendances at Altnagelvin A&E have already risen eight per cent year-on-year.

A snapshot of demand at the Derry ‘casualty’ ward has revealed that it is handling 200 to 230 patients a day compared with 165 to 170 patients at this time last year.

The figures were outlined by Geraldine McKay, the Trust’s Director of Acute Hospitals, and Dr. Bob Brown, its Director of Primary Care and Older People Services, during a presentation to Derry City & Strabane District Council’s monthly Health and Community Committee meeting.

Dr. Brown told the committee that the increase was sparked by a rise in the number of category one patients - those who needed to be seen within one hour - attending the Derry A&E.

The executives further revealed that the Western Trust has experienced a 26 per cent hike in the number of complex discharges (992 patients).

This, said Dr. Brown, was partly related to the number of patients waiting for community care packages outside the hospital system.

Bed pressures, infection control, ward closures and vacant posts, meanwhile, have been identified as key issues being planned for within the hospital.

The flu, norovirus, out-of-hours cover, out-of-hospital care and vacant posts are issues outside the hospital system.

Mrs. McKay said: “We do believe this will be a tough winter. We’ve mapped that through and we have a robrust action plan to deal with it.”

As part of their winter resilience planning Mr. McKay and Dr. Brown, co-chair a weekly Monday meeting of health care chiefs in order to flag up any issues that might arise.

And Mrs. McKay told the committee that in order to cope with a difficult Christmas period all elective surgery will be cancelled from December 21 to January 31.

Emergency operations will continue as normal, however.

“We took that decision because last year we cancelled patients on the morning of surgeries,” she said.

Mrs. McKay said that as winter approaches it is extremely important to get the message out that patients ‘choose well’ when accessing health care.

She said that this may be at a local hospital, at a local GP surgery, or at a local pharmacy.

However, the Trust chief she said it was just as important to ‘stay well’ and encouraged anyone who feels they really need to attend the Altnagelvin emergency department to do so.