Northern Ireland news

Emergency department consultant warns of tough winter for NHS

Dr John Maxwell is an emergency department consultant in the Belfast Trust

AN emergency department consultant in the Belfast Trust has said this could be "one of the worst winters" the north's NHS will experience.

Dr John Maxwell said staff were working under "really challenging and difficult circumstances" as the second wave of the Covid pandemic has seen hospital admissions surge.

Hospitals across the north are currently operating at almost full capacity.

"We do know already that healthcare systems were under pressure", Dr Maxwell said.

"We are very concerned that this could be one of the worst winters that the NHS in Northern Ireland will experience, or is going to experience, unless we act to change, to do something different and get control of the situation.

"As a consequence of the Covid pandemic, it has moved a lot of things forward. We are taking a lot of actions to try and help with what is going on.

"Certainly primary and secondary care teams are working hand in hand to try and deliver the best possible care for all of our patients.

"We want to avoid unnecessary admissions, we want to absolutely discharge patients as much as we possibly can back to the right place.

"Of course one of the big drives in all of this has been getting the patient to the right place first time - so taking those inefficiencies out of the system".

Dr Maxwell said healthcare staff wanted to thank the public "and say we do understand all the sacrifices that have been made".

"There are a lot of sacrifices in every way of life here, but I would also say please support the public health message that is out there.

"You have to absolutely abide by what we are trying to do, otherwise you will have an NHS that is overwhelmed, we will not get through this unless we do work together."

The senior medic added that he is confident both health minister Swann and the chief medical officer, Michael McBride, were doing all in their power to get through the crisis, but staff shortages were still a major problem.

"I know they are working tirelessly and constantly to find way through this, and guide people in the right direction as well as supporting the trusts, the GPs and primary care," he said.

"As a clinician I haven't found any barrier to resource in terms of Covid.

"But the resource that is always going to be a problem is workforce, that is your supply and demand, you've a very static supply. It takes three years to train a nurse, it takes 15 years to train a consultant.

"We have a pandemic that has just came upon us, we have 360 extra patients that we wouldn't have had before, all needing serious ventilatory support, but we can't suddenly produce another 100 ICU consultants, we can't suddenly produce another 1000 nurses."

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