GPs in the Western Trust area have been urged to consider alternatives for patients before sending them to Altnagelvin and South West Acute hospitals because of “high levels of demand due to winter pressures”, the ‘Journal’ can reveal.
The appeal from Western Trust Chief Executive, Elaine Way was issued on January 5 via email for the attention of GPs in Derry, Strabane, Limavady, Omagh and Fermanagh areas, including the GP Out of Hours Service.
Under the subject line ‘Winter Pressures at Altnagelvin and South West Acute Hospitals’, the Chief Executive stated: “The Western Trust’s Altnagelvin and South West Acute Hospitals are currently experiencing high levels of demand due to the winter pressures. We would ask all GPs who practice in the Derry, Strabane, Limavady, Omagh and Fermanagh areas to take this into consideration before sending patients to these hospitals and to consider using other alternatives such as the Rapid Response Community Team.
We will continue to keep you informed and updated on the situation.”
Secretary of the Western Local Medical Committee, Dr. Martin McCloskey said: “As always we are very aware of the pressures on hospitals and we always consider that and try not to overload it, but obviously our first priority has to be our patients’ welfare. So, if a patient requires hospital treatment it is our duty to send them to hospital, regardless of any alerts. General practice is exceedingly busy at the moment as well. For example, in my own practice we had over 60 requests for same day appointments yesterday (January 5).”
The Derry doctor went on to say: “A lot of minor illness can be treated perfectly safely by the patient taking simple remedies and also seeking advice from their local pharmacist. However, if a patient needs to be seen by their GP they will be seen, and if they need to be referred on for hospital care they will be referred on. I would also echo the suggestion that the A and E Department is for accidents or emergencies.”
East Derry MLA John Dallat said the move by the Western Trust illustrates the “tough situation our hospitals and their staff are facing”.
The SDLP asemblyman said: “It is worrying that the pressure is so great on our hospitals that this red alert has gone out to doctors pleading with them to take the pressure off. My experience is that the pressure on local doctors is unreal in terms of the patients they see and treat every day. It is difficult to see how they would be able to absorb any more pressure, particularly the pressure of people who need to attend A&E.”
A spokesperson for the Western Health and Social Care Trust (Western Trust) said: “This time of the year is usually an extremely busy time for Emergency Departments across Northern Ireland due to winter pressures. This was the case at both Altnagelvin and South West Acute Hospitals in recent days.
“We would like to commend all our medical, nursing and support staff who are working tirelessly to care for patients who attend our hospitals. We would encourage the public to use Emergency Departments wisely and only attend if absolutely necessary.”
The spokesperson referred to the recent ‘Choose Well’ campaign aimed at ensuring people accessed healthcare services that are most appropriate to their particular needs.
“The Choose Well campaign enables our emergency services to focus on the people who are the most sick and injured this winter. It’s about making it clear to the public that emergency and 999 services are for life threatening and serious conditions. Many minor healthcare issues can be dealt with at home or by seeking the advice of a pharmacist or, if necessary, consult with your local GP within working hours or Western Urgent Care after 6pm,” said the spokesperson, adding: “Before you dial 999 or go to your local Emergency Department, think about your options. We don’t want to discourage those with a genuine medical emergency from calling 999, but simply ask that you ‘Choose Well’, and consider the range of other more appropriate services available.”