Northern Ireland

Staff at Altnagelvin A&E at "breaking point" over New Year

Altnagelvin
Image caption The Western Health and Social Care Trust confirmed the major incident was due to a high volume of patients on Monday

Members of staff at Altnagelvin Area Hospital's emergency department were at "breaking point" over New Year, the BBC has been told.

A worker at the hospital said that colleagues were under tremendous pressure, after a "major incident" was declared on Monday 2nd January.

The Western Health Trust confirmed it was due to a high volume of patient numbers.

However a Trust spokesperson said the incident was "stood down" within hours.

It is also understood that there were trolley waits at Altnagelvin.

The Irish News reported on Tuesday that the hospital had to implement a "full 999 divert".

'Difficult and challenging'

In a statement to the BBC the Western Health and Social Care Trust said:

"The Trust activated its business continuity measures before Christmas and this supported the Trust's operation through the outbreak of Norovirus.

" (Monday) 2nd January 2017 proved a particularly difficult and challenging day and the emergency plan was enacted for a period of time to deal with a pressurised period in our ED (emergency department).

"This measure was stood down shortly afterwards".

In a report in November 2016, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) found that staff at Altanagelvin's emergency department were "burnt out".

Christmas hospital waits

Newly released figures also show that more than 400 patients had to wait at least 12 hours at emergency departments over the Christmas period.

The figures were obtained by the BBC from the Health and Social Care Board.

From Christmas Eve to 2 January, 462 patients had a wait of at least 12 hours to be admitted, discharged or transferred.

The Health and Social Care Board has apologised for any "distress and inconvenience".

The pressure was most acute in Antrim Area Hospital, where 165 patients faced at least a 12-hour wait.

At the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald, 94 patients had to wait the same period of time while there were 60 patients affected at Craigavon Area Hospital.

In the Western Health Trust, 33 patients waited at least 12 hours in Londonderry's Altnagelvin Hospital while the same number waited 12 hours at the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.

In Belfast, 28 patients faced a 12-hour wait at the Royal Victoria Hospital and 24 others waited in excess of 12 hours in the Mater Hospital.

The hospital which had the fewest 12-hour waits was the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine, with nine cases.

Winter illnesses

From December 24 to 29, there was a 9% rise on the number of attendances at emergency departments compared to the same period last year.

There was an increase of 14% on those visiting the emergency department in Antrim Area Hospital, while the increase was just 4% at the Royal Victoria.

In a statement, the board said there was a very high level of demand on urgent care services because of winter illnesses, including the norovirus.

It said it is working with health trusts, primary care colleagues and other key partners to alleviate the pressure.

"Plans have been put in place across the Health and Social Care system to manage increased demand at this time of year.

"However, given the extent of the increase in demand, some patients have had to wait more than 12 hours to be admitted to hospital.

"We fully understand the distress and inconvenience this causes to patients and their families and apologise to them for it."

Figures showing the amount of patients who had to wait more than four hours are due to be published on Thursday.

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