Healthcare news

Health trusts announce measures to prepare for 'difficult' winter

The NI Ambulance Service is appealing for people to dial 999 "only when it is necessary to do so"
Paul Ainsworth

Health trusts are preparing for a "difficult" winter period and are introducing plans to alleviate pressures on staff.

The initiatives have been announced ahead of a review of hospital emergency care by the Department of Health, which aims to establish a new regional care model, with a focus on meeting the needs of the growing elderly population in Northern Ireland.

The initiatives include an extra £2.27 million for GP services; a pharmacy consultation service for minor winter ailments; a new 'Emergency Care Village' featuring temporary additional accommodation at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital; and a scheme to enhance care at home.

A spokesperson for the Health and Social Care Board said: "The winter resilience plans focus on providing alternatives to hospital admissions in appropriate settings; ensuring patients can leave hospital quickly when they are clinically fit; and in improving ambulance turnaround times at emergency departments."

A pilot scheme involving the NI Ambulance Service and private and voluntary ambulance providers has already been established at the Ulster Hospital, which is introducing 'ambulance receivers', who can care for patients brought to the emergency department, allowing the ambulances to attend other call-outs.

An NIAS spokesman said: "Our greatest focus over the winter period will be to respond to life-threatening calls in as timely a manner as possible. We will do all we can to deliver the highest quality of care in the most timely manner possible. However, the public also have a role to play by ensuring that they contact us only when it is necessary to do so. We would ask the public to consider alternatives such as self-care, GP or Pharmacy attendance or self-referral to ED to enable us to keep ambulances free for real emergencies. However, if you feel that an ambulance is necessary please do not hesitate to contact us immediately."

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