Northern Ireland

Antrim A&E: Hospital 'regret' over care of child

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Media captionEdwin Poots plans to meet consultants at Antrim Area Hospital

The medical director at Antrim Area Hospital has said it is regrettable that a child - who later died - did not receive the appropriate care in its emergency department last month.

An investigation is under way into the circumstances of the death.

Mounting pressures on staff prompted A&E consultants to describe the system in Antrim as "unsafe".

Health Minister Edwin Poots has given an assurance that safety would "always over-ride" financial issues.

The child was brought to the Antrim Area Hospital's A&E department two weeks ago and then transferred to a Belfast hospital. However, the child later died.

Seven senior consultants described the A&E department at the Antrim hospital as "ineffective and unsafe", in a letter to the hospital's medical director, Peter Flanagan.

Mr Flanagan has now told the BBC: "It is a matter of deep regret that the care that we provided does at this stage not appear to be sufficient."

The health minister said future decisions would "see radical improvements" at Antrim.

Mr Poots said it "would be very foolish not to pay attention" to what the consultants have to say.

"We're not satisfied with where this hospital has been and we really do need to change the emergency department, in particular, and ensure that the emergency department can deliver for the many tens of thousands of people who use it," he said.

"What is important is that we have a safe service.

"And that will always override and supersede issues about finance. So if we have to take money from somewhere else to ensure that we have a safe service, then that will be done."

Image caption The situation in Antrim A&E has been described as "ineffective"

The case of the child has been reported to the Department of Health and the health board as a "serious adverse incident".

The Northern Trust confirmed that due to staff pressures that evening, it was 20 minutes before the child was triaged, or prioritised, - that is five minutes more than the trust's own target.

Twenty-one per cent of people who attended Antrim's emergency department between 17:00 GMT and midnight on Monday 25 March were seen by a triage nurse within the 15-minute target.

Sources have said that while Monday nights tend to be busy, that particular Monday was "hectic" with nurses having to be taken off general wards and placed in an already overstretched A&E department.

The investigation is examining whether the delay in examining the child affected the child's deteriorating condition.

In a statement, the trust said: "The trust, as a matter of course, carries out a serious adverse incident review in any circumstance involving the trust and its staff, service users or visitors which is 'out of the ordinary'.

"This is best practice and encourages the trust to review procedures and promote a culture of learning."

The statement added that the emergency department at Antrim Area Hospital was built to cater for 30,000 admissions a year but "currently treats upwards of 72,000 patients".

It said a new emergency department was due to open in June with increased capacity.

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