Belfast A&E scenes 'like Beirut'

Published Thursday, 09 January 2014
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A backlog of patients at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital led to scenes likened to Beirut, caused 12-hour trolley waits and a protest by union workers - who then booed Health Minister Edwin Poots.

Belfast A&E scenes 'like Beirut'
Protestors outside the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. (© UTV)

Mr Poots visited the hospital on Thursday, after a major incident plan had to be put in place the previous evening to deal with the unprecedented situation.

Health worker and Unison member Catherine Harte, who was in the hospital on Wednesday night, told UTV: "It was like something from Beirut - it was dreadful.

"I did my student placements in the casualty department at the height of the Troubles and those times had nothing on what I saw last night."

She added that, had the extra staff not been brought in, lives could have been at risk.

Belfast woman Rachel Brooker said her sister had to sit in a trolley in a corridor for almost 12 hours after being referred to the hospital by her GP.

"You couldn't move for the amount of people there was in the department," she said.

"People were lying in trolleys in the corridor and standing around waiting to be seen, it was pandemonium. The staff were under incredible pressure. It was a disgrace."

The plan dealt with the backlog in three hours - this has been an excellent response.

Health Minister Edwin Poots

Mr Poots appeared in the UTV Live studio to discuss what had happened and denied that the hospital would not have been able to handle any emergency situation that could have arisen.

The backlog of patients - caused by a recent spike in the number of people attending daily - came despite the absence of a flu epidemic, snow or other major contributing factors.

The major incident plan called in extra staff to deal with the scores of patients left on trolleys while waiting to be treated.

Some people were also diverted to other hospitals.

"Belfast Trust's emergency department at the Royal Victoria Hospital experienced extreme pressures and as a result we declared it a major incident," a Belfast health Trust spokeswoman said.

"This is a mechanism we use to call in extra staff at short notice to deal with particularly difficult situations. Our staff dealt professionally and quickly with a difficult situation and within a few hours had rectified the situation."

Mr Poots has described the situation as "exceptional" and added: "It is important not to confuse an exceptional circumstance with overall performance in Belfast, where waiting times have been demonstrating some improvement."

He thanked all staff for working long hours, in many cases above and beyond the call of duty, to ensure that all patients received the care they needed.

"I appreciate that it was a challenging situation for patients and staff," the DUP minister said.

"The additional staff who responded manned other areas which were then used as additional wards to address the unexpected demand.

"I am aware that the position by this morning was much better with no patients in the Belfast Trust, or indeed in any other Trust, waiting more than 12 hours to be assessed, treated and then admitted or discharged."

While we do not want anyone to wait and we fully understand how frustrating that can be for patients and the staff looking after them, all steps were taken to ensure patients were safely cared for.

Belfast Health Trust

The trade union Unison, which represents health workers, has said that its protest at the hospital aimed to "highlight the continuous crisis in A&E".

A spokeswoman said: "Unison has been pressing on this issue with the health minister, the health and social care board and the trusts for over two years.

"The public was assured that the closures in Mid Ulster and Whiteabbey would not have an adverse impact on A&E services. This has proved to be incorrect."

She continued: "Decisions were taken over the Christmas period, without consultation, to close A&E services in Lisburn and Downpatrick at weekends. This will further compound the crisis.

"It is now clear that the drive to implement Transforming Your Care - by cutting, closing and privatising A&E departments, while at the same time reducing bed numbers across our health service - is putting patients at risk."

The union is demanding an independent inquiry.

Alison Millar, general secretary for union NIPSA, added: "It is totally unacceptable that yet again the Royal Victoria Hospital A&E services are in the headlines because of unacceptable trolley waits.

"The Trust is relying on the goodwill of staff who are stressed, overworked and are working under extreme pressure. Staff's goodwill is being taken for granted."

She added that NIPSA is calling on the minister to respond to this unacceptable position and ensure that sufficient A&E provision is provided across Northern Ireland, and that the health committee to meet urgently to address this unacceptable situation.

We are now demanding an independent enquiry into the provision and delivery of A&E services in the Northern Ireland Health Service given that it does not appear to be safe in the hands of those currently responsible.


Recently fears have been raised about the potential strain on health services across Northern Ireland, after the Downe Hospital in Downpatrick and Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn reduced their opening hours.

The emergency departments at both hospitals operate between 8am and 8pm, Monday to Friday.

It has also emerged that ambulances had to be diverted from Craigavon Area Hospital earlier this week because of a surge in patients.

The Southern Health Trust said the situation was "effectively dealt with" and praised staff for "going the extra mile".

© UTV News
Comments Comments
turlough in Beirut wrote (383 days ago):
Excuse me. Beirut is actually quite a fantastic city and I think that the majority of citizens there would be highly embarrassed to be compared to anything in Belfast.
doog in in norniron wrote (384 days ago):
Ive been to Beirut and its no half as bad as a&e on a weekend in any of the Belfast sites.
trevor in omagh wrote (385 days ago):
The Health Service here is on its knees. A bad accident outside Strabane closes the A and E department in Altnagelvin for a matter of hours. Now this at the RVH. How would our Health services cope with a major incident.However it doesn't surprise me. Tyrone despite being the largest county in N.I and Omagh despite being the largest town west of the Bann doesn't even have A and E. Babies have been born on the roadside on route to hospital and it can take 21 days to see your G.P at the local health centre. Does Stormont care? No.
Roxy in Drumquin wrote (385 days ago):
A&E in Derry was a nightmare last night as well. My husband was rushed there by ambulance and it was 5 and a half hours before he was seen by a doctor. The place was chaotic, the situation in our A&E departments all over NI is frightening!
Marie in Belfast wrote (385 days ago):
This is nothing new the a and e is like Beirut most nights.
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