T1. Mr McNulty asked the Minister of Health, after commending the staff — nurses, porters, paramedics and doctors — of Daisy Hill Hospital for whom he has the utmost admiration in how they have handled the pressure that they are under, especially over the Christmas period, for an update on securing permanent senior consultant cover for the emergency department at Daisy Hill. (AQT 646/16-21)
I concur. The staff in the emergency departments have been under immense pressure. They have all come in when they are supposed to be off. They are coming in, covering shifts and doing absolutely everything. I absolutely put on record how fantastic they have been, and they continue to work really hard as we get through the winter period.
I can confirm it for you in writing, but I believe that we have been successful in the recruitment of at least one emergency consultant at Daisy Hill. We had advertised for two posts. I will confirm it in writing when contracts have been signed, but I believe that we were successful in attracting someone to the post.
I know of one instance over the Christmas period where an 85-year-old man was left on a trolley in an overflow room. Are there any contingency plans to bring consultants in from other areas, or how can this issue be appeased in this locality for those emergency situations when there is an overload?
Obviously, the priority has to be about making sure people are seen as quickly as possible. It is regrettable to say that some people have had to wait the extreme length of time that they have had to do. I have outlined the challenges that our emergency departments face, but we are not alone in that. The same challenges are right across this island; they are in England, Scotland and Wales. Actually, they are as far as Europe where there is an issue about recruiting consultants. It is an issue that needs to be factored into the future workforce planning, because one of the things that I always said when I took up post was that I was really surprised that there was not an overarching workforce plan. There is a European-wide issue, perhaps even a global issue, about a shortage of people to work in these fields, and that is where the workforce strategy comes in.
Nobody should have to wait in corridors or side rooms, and our staff are doing everything that they possibly can. This year, we were in a better state of readiness in our preparations for winter than we ever have been. I made sure that I brought everybody in — all the heads of the trusts, the board and the Ambulance Service — to be assured that everything that could have been done in advance was being done. We did have particular, challenging issues this year, not least being the fact that more people attended our emergency departments, but also because we had outbreaks of viruses such as the norovirus, which obviously put additional pressure on hospitals.