Northern Ireland

Sir Liam Donaldson to head NI health service review group

Sir Liam Donaldson
Image caption Sir Liam Donaldson held the post of chief medical officer for England for 12 years

The former chief medical officer of England is to head a group of experts to consider improvements to the way the health service is run in Northern Ireland.

Sir Liam Donaldson will examine whether it supports a culture of openness, learning and making amends.

His appointment follows months of allegations of inadequate care in the Belfast and Northern health trusts.

It is hoped Sir Liam will report back by the end of the year.

The announcement was made in the assembly on Tuesday by Health Minister Edwin Poots.

He said he wanted to see "if a step-change improvement in the quality of governance arrangements across the HSC (health and social care) is needed".

The expert group will focus on the effectiveness of arrangements within the HSC trusts, Health and Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency.

The appointment was announced as the regulator, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), published its major report into the emergency department at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

The review was ordered after a major incident was declared at the RVH's A&E department in January.

At one stage during the incident 42 people were waiting on trolleys, and staff described the situation as "horrendous".

Staffing issues

An investigation is also under way into six deaths at the hospital's emergency department in which delays in treating the patients may have been a contributory factor in their deaths.

Image caption Edwin Poots listed specific actions to be taken to address problems at the Northern and Belfast trusts

The regulator has produced an in-depth review of the RVH emergency area highlighting significant staffing issues, including vacancies and trolley waits, all of which it concludes, is impacting on patient safety.

A staff survey is also published with quotes from staff saying they were afraid to work in triage overnight and another saying they felt like running away because of the intense pressure.

While the Belfast Health Trust has begun to implement the RQIA's 59 recommendations, it accepts further work is required.

'Diagnostic timescales'

Mr Poots listed specific actions to be taken to address problems at the Northern and Belfast trusts.

He said an improvement plan to be adopted by the Belfast Trust would improve the situation for accident and emergency patients at the Royal Victoria Hospital, but there could be no guarantee that the accepted "diagnostic timescales" would be met at all times.

"This is due to the inability to fill medical posts," the minister said.

The deaths of five babies are among 11 under investigation at the Northern Health Trust.

Last month, Mr Poots told the assembly that he had been made aware of 20 cases in which the trust's response was said to be below standard.

The patients were seen in the emergency, obstetrics, gynaecology or X ray departments.

The trust is also completing a review of about 35,000 X rays taken at the Causeway Hospital, Coleraine, County Londonderry, between 2011 and 2012.

Nine patients have been recalled. That review has now been extended across the entire health trust, involving 48,000 X rays.

Sir Liam is currently the World Health Organisation's envoy for patient safety and chairman of the independent monitoring for the polio eradication programme.

In the UK, he is currently chair of health policy at Imperial College, London, and chancellor of Newcastle University.

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