The difficulties at Emergency Departments in Derry and across the North are “just the tip of the iceberg” in terms of wider problems within the Health Service, Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan has claimed.
The SDLP representative claimed that health service staff were performing “heroics” in extremely stressful conditions.
Mr. Durkan was speaking as the Western Trust and other health agencies this week urged people not to come to Emergency Departments unless their condition was urgent and serious.
A ‘major incident’ was declared at Altnagelvin Area Hospital’s Emergency Department on Monday, with the Trust confirming that this arose as a direct result of large numbers of patients presenting there.
Mr Durkan said: “The difficulties being experienced in emergency departments, not just in Altnagelvin but right across the North, are symptomatic of wider problems across the Health Service.
“This is not exclusively an Accident & Emergency problem. There are issues not only with people turning up at Emergency Departments, but also huge difficulties caused by people who are in hospital but who should be out in the community receiving care but the care packages just aren’t in place to do that.
“That creates a log jam and A&E is the tip of the iceberg as they can’t move people through the hospital.”
Mr. Durkan said he has been highlighting for many years the “lack of workforce planning” and said “we don’t have enough nurses.”
“The people who suffer as a result are not just the patients but also the hardworking staff who are there.
“They are performing heroics in as stressful an environment as one could imagine,” he claimed.
In Derry, the Western Trust revealed last month that it has taken measures, including additional staff to help address a steep rise in the number of people attending the A&E at Altnagelvin.
Speaking at the Trust’s December Board meeting however, Chief Executive, Elaine Way, said a new Emergency Department was needed at Altnagelvin to deal with congestion.
Local people have been urged to think carefully before turning up at Accident and Emergency amid ongoing pressures on services.
The Western Trust, the Health and Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency have issued appeals to people to consider other options such as pharmacies, their GPs and Minor Injury Units, unless their situation is a real emergency or they require urgent medical care.
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.
“Patients with less critical injuries or ailments such as colds and sore throats do not require treatment in an ED and at busy periods patients who have been assessed and do not require immediate treatment will wait longer.
“The public has a really important role to play in helping ease the pressures on EDs.
“Think twice before coming to the Emergency Department and only come here if you have a serious and urgent condition here are other services available like Minor Injuries, GP or GP Out of Hours and Pharmacies that can help you. For more information about the services that are available to you, click here: www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/stay-well.
The Health and Social Care Board and Public Health Agency meanwhile has also advised that Emergency Departments across Northern Ireland are currently experiencing very high levels of pressure.
In a joint statement they said: “The public can assist by only attending an Emergency Department if their condition is urgent, so helping to ensure that the sickest patients get the care they need.
“It is regrettable that some people are having to wait longer to be treated in Emergency Departments or to be admitted to hospital at this time.
“The HSCB and PHA are currently working closely with all Trusts to optimise the flow of patients within hospitals and will continue to monitor the situation.”