Staff sickness closes Ulster Hospital children's ward
A 20-bed children's ward at the Ulster Hospital has been closed for almost a month due to staff sickness levels, the BBC understands.
Management at the South Eastern Trust closed the ward on Friday 11 November.
The Maynard Sinclair Ward is a paediatric medical ward that works with children up to 14 years of age.
The South Eastern Trust said the situation was being monitored and the ward would re-open once appropriate staffing levels were achieved.
David Robinson uses the ward with his nine-year-old daughter Leah and told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme that they got caught up in the closure.
"Leah has an assortment of issues, she has cerebral palsy, severe epilepsy, she is in a wheelchair, she has to be peg fed and has a number of serious allergies," he said.
"Since she was five weeks old we have had constant admittances to the Maynard Sinclair Ward.
"The nurses there are like an extended family to Leah, they know her really well and understand her condition."
Leah has direct admittance to the ward whenever she needs it due to her complex condition, but last month, when she had to be rushed in, the family were told she would have to go through A&E as there were not enough staff to manage the ward.
She was in A&E for five hours, but her condition deteriorated and she had to be transferred to the intensive care unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
Leah had to stay there for three weeks before being discharged on Friday.
Mr Robinson said he was surprised to hear the ward was still closed.
"I called up into the ward to basically find empty beds and no staff," he said.
In a statement the South Eastern Trust confirmed that the ward had to be closed last month.
"Due to staff sickness levels and to ensure patient safety, a decision was made with senior management and clinicians within the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust on Friday 11 November 2016 to temporarily relocate all paediatric admissions from Maynard Sinclair to Craig Ward in the Ulster Hospital," said the trust.
"The trust will continue to monitor sickness levels on a daily basis and Maynard Sinclair Ward will be reopened as soon as appropriate staffing levels can be achieved.
"Staff within this clinical area continue to provide a high standard of nursing care to all children and young people with the full support of their managers and the trust."
MLA Robbie Butler, who sits on Stormont's health committee for the Ulster Unionist Party, said he would be asking Health Minister Michelle O'Neill to urgently explain the situation.
"I am disappointed that this is the first time that the health committee are hearing about a major ward being closed," he said.
"This demonstrates the lack of flexibility within the system to be able to respond to staff shortages due to sickness."