New A&E more than a decade in planning

The waiting area at the new A&E at the RVH. Picture by Mal McCann
The waiting area at the new A&E at the RVH. Picture by Mal McCann

WITH more than a decade in planning, design work on Belfast's new A&E first started in 2004.

Serving the city's population, the Royal's new ‘Emergency Department” will also act as the regional trauma centre - caring for the most seriously ill patients from across the north as well as those injured in major accidents.

Located on the ground floor of the new 12-storey Critical Care Building, it is situated between the RVH main building and the maternity hospital.

Public access to the department for the public will be via Johnston Road, to the left of the current main Royal Victoria Hospital building. The area outside the unit will be a drop-off zone only.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service will access it from the Falls Road through a dedicated blue light route. There will be no pedestrian or public access from the Falls Road.

With a major focus on reducing trolley waits, the new department has a larger ambulance arrival/receiving area to tackle delays in patients hand-overs.

There will also be two additional resuscitation beds for the sickest patients, larger cubicles and a much bigger waiting area to improve "dignity" for patients and their families.

Donna McGeary, an A&E sister who was seconded to work on the commissioning of the new department for the past year, said they hoped to operate a "new way of working" to tackle the trolley waits crisis.

"We will have a 'minors' area where patients who are able to walk will wait to be assessed.

"Coming to hospital by ambulance does not mean you’ll be seen quicker - if you are able to walk you will wait in minors with the other patients. We want to treat the sickest patients first."

Following the controversial closure of Belfast City hospital's A&E four years ago due to an inability to recruit experienced doctors, numbers attending the Royal increased dramatically.

The RVH A&E is now seeing around 83,000 patients a year. An average of 250 patients attend each day - with a "quiet day" at around 230, according to a leading A&E consultant.

Dr Richard Wilson said they were exceptionally busy last week, with 300 attendances in one day - a third of which were transferred by ambulance.

"The challenges within the ED are two-fold: We do need to ensure we have enough staff. But we also need to look at how patients are using it appropriately. What are the alternatives to ED?"

Dr Wilson said there was "a real boost" with the move, but added that problems still existed.

"People are committed to make it work but it's not going to fix things overnight," he said.

"Trolley waits and 12 hour breaches are continuing we've raised concerns about that. There is a lot of work being done to address that."