Northern Ireland

Northern Health Trust needs 'intensive support'

Antrim Area Hospital has faced criticism over failing to meet A&E waiting time targets
Image caption Antrim Area Hospital has faced criticism over failing to meet A&E waiting time targets

The Northern Health Trust is in a poor position and requires intensive support to improve, a report has found.

The trust has been under considerable pressure, mainly due to the poor performance of Antrim Area Hospital's accident and emergency department.

A review team, brought in from England last year, has made five recommendations.

These include giving more power to clinicians to lead change and the appointment of temporary managers.

The change will happen in three phases, primarily the delivery of services at Antrim Area Hospital, then the Causeway Hospital and finally community services, especially those affecting the elderly.

At Christmas, Health Minister Edwin Poots sacked the trust's chairman and the chief executive was later moved aside.

Mr Poots then brought in a turnaround team due to his concerns about the trust's performance, particularly about the "lack of sufficient improvement in emergency department waiting times".

That team also recommended that the trust received support from senior managers.

Earlier this year two senior directors, Mary Hinds and Paul Cummings, joined the trust on temporary secondment from the Public Health Agency and the Health and Social Care Board to lead the delivery of change.

On Tuesday, the health minister told the assembly he expected those appointments to last at least a year before permanent appointments are made.

Image caption Edwin Poots brought in a turnaround team due to concerns about the trust's performance

Mr Poots also revealed that the trust is to improve how it calculates its mortality rate.

He said while there was no cause for concern about how this is currently being done, the trust is to employ the national method used by an independent organisation that aims to improve the quality of health care.

The minister said it would ensure mortality rates are being calculated properly.

It is the latest in a series of reviews of the trust, which, in the past two years, has been inundated with problems, including breached waiting time targets and low staff morale.

For successive winters, the hospital has experienced excessive trolley waits, with regular breaches of both its four and 12-hour targets.

The report has been welcomed by the trust.

Mary Hinds, senior director of turnaround at the trust, said the report "sets out a clear direction for the trust which harnesses the enormous talents of doctors, nurses and other health professionals to make the changes that are needed".

She added: "While the trust has begun to make changes which are having a positive impact on patient care, the next few months will be vital in our preparation for the winter ahead."

The trust said it had already strengthened day to day management and there had been "some promising improvements" in performance in the emergency department.

Dr Calum MacLeod, the interim medical director, said: "We want to provide the very best care for our patients. This report is very welcome and we are looking forward to tackling the challenges ahead and making sure patients can rely on the highest quality care."

The trust has also established a joint partnership forum bringing local GPs and trust professionals together.

Dr Brian Patterson, a local GP, said: "There is a significant amount of work to do but these are encouraging foundations to greater co-operation and understanding for the future."

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