High level of demand for A&E services

Dr Dermot Hughes: Medical Director
Dr Dermot Hughes: Medical Director

Staff at Altnagevlin’s A&E Department have been stretched to the limit over the holiday season with over 1,200 people attending accident and emergency and 52 more admissions to wards than this time last year.

According to the Western Trust’s Medical Director, Dr Dermot Hughes, the hospital experienced high levels of demand from December 28 to January 03 1,209 people at A&E Department, 302 of whom were admitted for further treatment. Last year 1,025 attended with 250 admitted. These figures were reflected across Northern Ireland with a three percent increase in the number of people attending A&E Departments compared to the same period last year, and represented a 10 per cent increase on two years ago. On Saturday, January 2 alone, there was a 15 to 25 per cent increase in attendances at A&Es in the Province. Meanwhile, at Altnagelvin and South West hospitals there were 96 additional admissions this year.

“Saving lives is the priority for everyone working in Emergency Departments (ED) and minor ailments such as colds and sore throats do not require treatment in an ED,” said Dr Hughes.

“I think people sometimes forget that in any Emergency Department, there are people who are fighting for lives and our staff are doing everything they can to help them. People involved in road traffic collisions, breathing difficulties, chest pains or a serious wound all need to be our first priority.

Appealing for the public to think before attending the ED, he said: “A significant number of people attending with minor conditions and they are diverting highly trained doctors and nurses away from the job of helping people who are real emergencies.”

Patients attending with non-emergency conditions will have to wait, he said.

“Limiting patients to urgent/emergency cases would allow us to do what we are trained to do, without the distraction of queues of people with minor ailments. It also allows patients with limb or life-threatening issues to receive the attention they need promptly.

“The whole process from the moment a patient arrives in the ED until they leave is very carefully managed and monitored by senior medical staff. People who are assessed as having non-emergency conditions are likely to be treated in the Minors area and will have to wait until patients with emergency conditions are given they emergency treatment they need.

“The public has a really important role to play in helping ease the pressures on EDs and most people do understand when it is appropriate to go to an Emergency Department. However, hospital attendances in EDs in Northern Ireland are high compared to the rest of the UK.

“If there is one message for the public it would have to be – think twice before coming to the Emergency Department and only come here if you have a serious and urgent condition. There are other services available like Minor Injuries, GP or GP Out of Hours and Pharmacies that can help you, so please think carefully before choosing the right one – www.nidirect.gov.uk/choosewell