Public to be consulted in review of emergency care

Public to be consulted in review of emergency care

10 April 2019

THE district’s most senior health campaigner has warned that the local community will not be denied its rightful entitlement to hospital services.

The warning from Down Community Health Committee chairman Eamonn McGrady comes after it was announced that the public is to have its say on a review of Northern Ireland’s urgent and emergency care system.

The Department of Health has also called a summit to tackle the pressures on emergency departments and find a new regional model of care for the Province, with the public consultation launched later this year.

The summit and public consultation are key stages in the review of urgent and emergency care announced by the government department last November. In addition to A&E care, the review will also examine GP out-of-hours provision and minor injuries units.

In Downpatrick, the Downe Hospital’s emergency department is open from Monday to Friday between 8am and 8pm, with a GP out-of-hours service in operation overnight. On Saturday and Sunday, a minor injuries service is available between 9am and 5pm.

Emergency department consultant Dr John Maxwell — who works at the Royal and Mater hospitals in Belfast —  is leading the review, with the summit planned for June.

In October 2016, then Health Minister Michelle O’Neill unveiled the Bengoa Report, a 10-year action plan on health care transformation in Northern Ireland which identified urgent and emergency care as one of the specialties “in most need of reform”.

Dr Maxwell says the level of pressure usually experienced in winter at Northern Ireland’s emergency departments is now lasting throughout the year. 

“Many people who currently attend emergency departments do not have life-threatening emergency care needs and could be dealt with more effectively in different settings, but there is currently nowhere else for them to turn,” he said. “We need fundamental reform; including developing alternative routes to treatment, care and admission for our older citizens.”

Dr Maxwell added: “This is not about simply looking at the future of individual hospital sites, but at how the system works as a whole. That includes assessing how well defined the roles of emergency departments currently are and examining the potential for more urgent treatment centres.”

Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said: “It is very clear we need a new model of care. Unless we make changes, we will increasingly be unable to cope with the changing levels of need in our community.”

Mr McGrady said the emergency department review will present both challenges and opportunities.

“It is essential that both our community and the politicians make our voices heard,” he continued. “The need for justice in the distribution of healthcare services is of paramount concern. This is  particularly important for rural communities across the North. There is also much to be learned from models of care in other countries. 

“The undue concentration of Type 1 emergency departments in Belfast has been at the expense of the rural communities in the rest of Northern Ireland and that imbalance must now be addressed.”

Mr McGrady said the clinical case for a 24-hour emergency department in Downpatrick to meet the urgent needs of the local population from Strangford to the foothills of the Mournes was well established, “having been proven under the most detailed scrutiny when the Downe, the people’s hospital, was being built just a few years ago”.

He added: “Subsequent reductions in service must now be addressed and reversed. There can be no further delay in the grasping of the Belfast nettle which distorts the distribution of services for the rest of the community.

“Twenty thousand people took part in the Love the Downe rally as they knew how important our local services are and the dire consequences of their emaciation. If the opportunity is not taken now to restore our services, our rightful equitable entitlement, our entire community will be justly outraged.

“We will have our say. We will ensure that our community is no longer denied its rightful entitlement.”