Northern Ireland news

Health trust admits 'red flag' warning over training of junior doctors

There is a severe workforce shortage in Northern Ireland among junior doctors, according to a Department of Health review
Seanín Graham

RED flag 'warnings' have been issued to the Southern health trust about trainee doctors' conditions, The Irish News can reveal.

The General Medical Council (GMC), which is the regulatory body for doctors, surveyed staff at the trust's two main hospitals - Daisy Hill in Newry and Craigavon Area Hospital - and discovered a shortage of consultants to oversee junior staff.

Dr Peter Maguire, a consultant anaesthetist based at Daisy Hill, confirmed that a second GMC red flag had been given to his department in relation to junior doctors' training.

"Basically they told us we could be doing a hell of a lot better," he said.

The development comes a day after a Department of Health review found a serious shortfall in the medical workforce in the north, with an extra 100 medical students required to meet demand - a move that could cost £30m and lead to services being cut.

A spokesman for the Southern trust confirmed the GMC had found "training could be improved" as well as "areas of good practice".

The regulator's survey was carried out last year.

"There were red warning areas relating to both acute sites in the Southern Trust... These related to staffing shortages at permanent consultant level which impact on the training experience of junior doctors," the trust spokesman said.

He added: "The Daisy Hill Hospital 'pathfinder project' is looking specifically at addressing clinical recruitment and retention issues, to secure and sustain safe acute hospitals services for the Newry and Mourne area. This process has been supported by the local community, and by the Department of Health, who announced a £6.4m investment in 2018."

A junior doctors' forum has agreed "actions" as a result of the GMC survey, according to the trust.

Dr Maguire, who is leading member of the British Medical Association (BMA) trade union, also said workforce problems had led to an upsurge in the cancellation of planned operations in the Southern trust.

He claimed the organisation was currently running at 33 per cent cancellation rate for 'elective' procedures.

The Irish News asked the trust to comment on concerns that a third of its planned surgeries had been suspended.

A trust official was unable to provide a breakdown but said that operations were "reduced" during winter months "to protect surgical slots for red flag and urgent patients".

The trust accepted the cancellations were "very distressing" for patients and families.

A query was also put forward on the management culture at the trust, amid claims there there was a "toxic" work environment.

The trust said it would "welcome engagement" with any member of staff to "understand concerns and to support them to create a positive working environment".

"There are a number of ways for staff to raise concerns about their working environment – the trust's 'See Something, Say Something' policy outlines the many routes open to staff," a spokesman said.

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