Edwin Poots says A&E services will be based on facts and figures

Edwin Poots The health minister has said he will "look at everything" to determine the future of emergency services

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The health minister has told the BBC that he will not make the same mistakes as his predecessor who closed A&E departments in areas that were unable to cope.

Edwin Poots said deciding which emergency services should stay open will be based on facts and figures.

Health Trusts are currently drawing up population plans for each area.

Those figures will determine the number and type of hospitals that remain or are re-configured in each trust.

Mr Poots was speaking ahead of a debate in the assembly on Tuesday on the future of the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine.

"We will look at everything, I will receive population plans for the area," he said.

"But I make it clear, I will not be making the same mistake as was made over the closure of the Mid Ulster and Whiteabbey hospitals."

In 2010, Michael McGimpsey, the then health minister, closed the A&E departments at the Whiteabbey and Mid Ulster hospitals - both of which are in the Northern Health Trust.

At the time, many officials voiced their concern at the closures predicting that the Antrim Area Hospital would be unable to cope with the extra footfall.

Pressure

Their predictions were right.

As a result of the closures, around 30,000 extra people now travel to the Antrim Area Hospital which is unable to cope with the extra patients.

Last week two independent reports into the hospital concluded that aspects of care were below an acceptable standard with patients waiting too long on trolleys on hospital corridors.

In a climate where discussions are taking place about the future of other emergency departments including the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine, Edwin Poots has told the BBC his decisions will be based on what is produced by the population plans.

A new emergency department is currently being built on the Antrim Area Hospital site - it will have the capacity to cater for around 90,000 people.

"We will give clear consideration to everything put before us," said Mr Poots.

"What I am certain about is that we are developing a new emergency department at Antrim Area Hospital to cope with around 90,000 people - I don't expect them to have to deal with 120,000 patients if that's the outcome of the population plans."

The current guidelines say there should be one acute hospital to serve around 250,000 people.

The Transforming Your Care document, which is the road map for how health services are to change in Northern Ireland, states that there should be one acute hospital, ie a hospital which has an accident and emergency department, for a population of 250,000.

As the population figures for Causeway Hospital fall well below that - it will be difficult to justify the hospital's emergency department in its current state.

Another problem facing the Northern Health Trust is it cannot attract middle grade doctors to work in the Causeway.

Regarded as a "smaller acute hospital" according to the health trust, doctors prefer to work in larger hospitals where they believe the training is of a higher standard.

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