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The BBC's Dennis Murray
"A hospital medical director says it's the worst winter since 1989"
 real 28k

Monday, 10 January, 2000, 16:43 GMT
Emergency patients treated in chairs

Beds shortage has been worsened by flu epidemic Beds shortage has been worsened by flu epidemic


Emergency patients suffering from respiratory and heart problems have been treated in armchairs at a Belfast hospital.

Flu nightmare
The situation arose as all of Northern Ireland's hospitals continue to struggle to treat the high number of people needing emergency care as the beds shortage and UK-wide flu epidemic worsen.

All non-emergency operations are being suspended at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

Director of medical services at the Royal Group of Hospitals Ian Carson said the situation had reached a crisis point which had made the health service "unsafe".

He said: "One of the difficulties at the moment is not just the shortage of beds to deal with the sudden onslaught of winter-flu-like illnesses that come into the hospitals, but it is extremely difficult to nurse and care for these patients and many of my medical and nursing colleagues are now saying that at present our practice is unsafe."

Non-emergency procedures have already been halted at Altnagelvin hospital in Londonderry.

The Antrim Area Hospital said they are having difficulties dealing with emergency admissions.

And on Sunday afternoon the Ulster hospital in Dundonald near Belfast had run out of trollies as well as beds and was forced to treat some patients on chairs.

'Breaking point'

Ulster Hospital Consultant Dr McFarland said resources were at breaking point.


Minister Bairbre de Brun met the Assembly health committee Health Minister Bairbre de Brun met the Assembly health committee
He said: "Looking around the Accident and Emergency Department at the moment. We have every cubical full. We have used all of our trollies. We have people sitting on chairs because we don't have a trolley to put them on and we have 14 people waiting for a admission.

"We are seeing 30 to 35 emergency medical patients per day at the moment. We wouldn't normally expect to see 20 to 25, so that has been a 20% increase which we have been coping with since the 25th of December."

McFarland said most of the patients waiting would be placed in beds within a few hours, but he said they would not have any beds for other patients arriving during the night.

Many were elderly and had breathing problems or heart failure caused by respiratory problems.

"They all have serious symptoms or they wouldn't get into hospital at the moment," he said.

'More money needed'

Staff sister Jackie Halloran called on the government to provide more money to staff more hospital beds because she said she could see no end to the crisis.

"It seems non-ending and I think the patients themselves don't understand. Most of them are very distressed over it," she said.

"It is unacceptable and the nursing staff are all very cut up because patients are just not getting seen and treated the way they should be."

She said over a third of the nurses had already succumbed to the flu virus.

"They are getting tireder as the weeks go on. Their conscience says that they have to be there in work because they know we are short staffed.

"There will not be an end until we get some more money to open beds. They have closed so many hospital beds throughout Northern Ireland," she said.

One Ulster Hospital patient, Jim, who was being treated on a trolley for chest pains on Sunday night said he knew his accommodation, was not the fault of staff.

He said: "It's not the staff's fault. They are doing their best. I could well be lying here tomorrow morning. They have just told me there are no beds available and there are unlikely to be."

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See also:
10 Jan 00 |  Health
Flu numbers 'keep growing'
29 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
Doctor warns of risk to patients
08 Jan 99 |  Health
Dobson admits health crisis
09 Jan 00 |  Northern Ireland
Flu outbreak 'under control'
07 Jan 00 |  Northern Ireland
Extra beds to ease hospitals crisis

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