Page last updated at 09:17 GMT, Friday, 14 May 2010 10:17 UK

Patient care 'top priority' in A&E hospital move- Trust

Whiteabbey Hospital
Whiteabbey Hospital's A&E and cardiology services are to go

Patient safety and staff levels will remain a priority with the removal of services from two hospitals, a director at the Northern Trust has said.

Accident and emergency services will cease at Whiteabbey and Mid Ulster hospitals on 24 May.

They will be replaced with minor injury units, while many of the more serious cases will go to Antrim Area Hospital.

Staff affected by the move have said they are concerned about the safety of patients.

Dr Peter Flanagan, a senior medical director at the Northern Trust, said there has been ongoing planning to help the transition.

"Patient care and safety remains our top priority.

"We are working very closely with all the staff groups to get everything ready for the change, and we will be working very hard to make sure they can cope and we are putting in a number of steps.

"One of the reasons for the change is to concentrate our staff and resources on the Antrim and Causeway hospital sites to improve the care that is given in both of those," he added.

Workers at the hospitals were briefed on Wednesday and afterwards several expressed grave concerns.

Nicola Clarke, a junior doctor who has worked at Antrim and Mid Ulster hospitals, said: "Staff are completely overworked.

"They're very good but they don't have time. You leave the place on a day wondering 'did I get everything done I was supposed to get done?' We're so under pressure.

"We're just concerned that there's going to be something happens to a patient.

"Somebody's going to die, there's going to be a critical incident and the nurses and doctors are going to be blamed and it's not going to be their fault."

Another health worker told the BBC: "We had a doctor at the Mid Ulster meeting this morning who broke down in tears and she said there is no way this is going to work."

Inpatient cardiology services are also being moved from Whiteabbey to Antrim Area Hospital.

Over the next few months, the remaining acute medical beds from Whiteabbey and high dependency beds from Mid Ulster will also be transferred.

However, the BBC has learned that in the last three weeks alone there have been on average 20 trolley waits per day.

Dr Flanagan said there would be up to 20 additional beds to cope with demand.

"The main reasons we came to the decision is the fact that we have lost a number of key medical staff.

"We simply do not have the resources to run four A&E departments and if we tried we could end up with a complete collapse of services which would be even worse," Dr Flanagan added.

On Wednesday, the Northern Health Trust' s Colm Donaghy said the changes had been planned for some time and were approved by the health minister in September 2009 after a 16-week period of consultation.

"I want to reassure staff that the trust will work to ensure that changes will not lead to any compulsory redundancies for those who work at the two local hospital sites," he said.

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