New drive to save A&E welcomed as figures show neighbouring hospital 'struggling' to meet targets

Campaigners protest at Craigavon Area Hospital over plans to shut the emergency department at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry. Picture by Matt Bohill.
Campaigners protest at Craigavon Area Hospital over plans to shut the emergency department at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry. Picture by Matt Bohill.

PLANS to reduce hours at the emergency department at Newry’s Daisy Hill Hospital have been postponed as new figures show its closest A&E is failing to meet targets for treating patients.

The Southern Health and Social Care Trust has confirmed a consultation around the future of Daisy Hill’s accident and emergency department is on hold, after earlier this month saying that services were unsustainable due to a lack of staff.

A regional summit is to be held next week to discuss the future of the emergency department and to explore options to "safely sustain" emergency care.

The Health and Social Care Board, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority, Ambulance Service and the Public health Agency are expected to take part in the talks.

A £1m contingency plan to accommodate more patients at Craigavon hospital had been approved in case night-time A&E services at Daisy Hill were temporarily halted due to staff shortages.

But new figures from the Department of Health show that Craigavon has failed to to meet waiting time targets at its A&E raising concerns about how it could manage with a potential overspill from Newry.

The number of patients waiting 12 hours or more for treatment between January and March stood at 315, with 181 waiting more than 12 hours in January alone.

Throughout March 80 patients at A&E faced a 12-hour wait or more, compared to just eight the previous March.

Upper Bann SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said the data proved Craigavon would not able to handle an increase in patients if Daisy Hill emergency department had to close.

"The (£1m) funding announced earlier this month will not increase capacity to take on patients from other hospitals - it’s needed to deal with current patient demand,” she said.

"People in Newry and South Down deserve high quality hospital services. As do people in our community. A surge in A&E numbers at Craigavon Area Hospital would stretch services even further, resulting in longer waiting lists and poorer outcomes for patients."

However, a Southern Trust spokeswoman said the majority of visitors to both Daisy Hill and Craigavon emergency departments were seen within four hours – despite an increase in patient numbers.

"Unfortunately, some of our patients waited longer than the 12 hour ministerial target and we very much regret that these people had such a long wait,” the spokesman said, urging people not to attend with “minor ailments".

News that the Newry consultation plans were being postponed was welcomed by campaign group Save Our Emergency Department.

It came amid angry scenes outside a board meeting of the Southern Health trust yesterday as protesters gathered at Craigavon Area Hospital to oppose plans to reduce hours at Daisy Hill A&E.

Some protesters expressed concern that they were unable to get into the meeting.

Spokeswoman Séana Grant told The Irish News that they were "more than willing to work with the Trust over Daisy Hill.

"We welcome the postponement of the consultation, even if it is temporary," she said.

"We have watched services at Daisy Hill be downgraded to the point where they can claim it’s unsafe.

"We can see that Craigavon is struggling to cope, and should Daisy Hill’s emergency services cease, it would see an increase of around 62 per cent. It’s not feasible."