Published Monday, 10 February 2014
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Interview: Edwin Poots
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The DUP minister commissioned the Regulation Quality and Improvement Authority investigation after a major incident took place at Belfast's main A&E ward in January.
On what should have been a routine evening, a backlog of patients caused 12-hour trolley waits and "scenes like Beirut" with dozens of extra staff having to be called in.
Mr Poots revealed last week that an inquiry was underway and on Monday the Assembly was briefed on the initial findings.
"I have been advised that the inspection identified a range of issues which cause me and my department to have serious concern about whether the Belfast Trust is consistently performing to the high standards that I require in executing its responsibilities," he told MLAs.
"I do recognise however that some of these are wider issues that cannot necessarily be addressed by the Trust on its own. The emerging findings help to put all the concerns that had been circulating into a clearer context.
I am glad to say that the Inspection confirmed that there is an overwhelming desire from the staff to be part of the solution and I want to assure members that this will happen.
"Nevertheless, this is a disappointing outcome and reflects the unacceptable experiences that many of us have had related to us by some patients and staff. I am resolved that this will be fully and comprehensively addressed as a matter of priority."
Health bosses were forced to declare a major incident at the Royal Victoria on 8 January with more than 100 patients left waiting for treatment.
The next day, hospital workers were so angry that they staged a protest and booed the Health Minister as he was driven away from the facility.
Mr Poots said RQIA inspectors have spoken to over 100 staff from a variety of roles and concerns were raised about staffing levels in key areas, allegations of bullying, staff under intolerable pressure, and a system of care that does not function fully as it was set up to do.
However he praised the efforts of front line staff for their "blitz-like spirit" and gave assurances of his commitment to improving emergency care in Northern Ireland.
"The concerns relate to the Emergency Department itself, to the Acute Medical Unit (AMU) and to some aspects of the wider hospital and Trust functions," the Health Minister explained.
"There are genuine and heartfelt concerns from clinicians about the impact this difficult situation is having on patients."
Politicians at Stormont were scathing in their reaction to Monday's findings.
Fearghal McKinney, SDLP, said: "Three weeks ago he refused to acknowledge there was even a problem, calling the Royal A&E incident a one off.
"Today he makes a statement to the Assembly on a review which he announced last week and doesn't even bring to the House the terms of reference of that review."
Health committee chair Maeve McLaughlin, of Sinn Féin, called the intial findings "quite damning".
She went on: "Is the minister now saying there is a crisis in emergency care and that this reaches beyond the Belfast Trust? It is welcome that the minister has now placed a focus on emergency departments, he should have done this a lot earlier.
"The inspection found that there are not enough doctors and nurses to provide the appropriate levels of care. Recruitment and retention of staff is an issue but how then can the minister say in his statement that he expects to appoint additional medical and nursing staff quickly - why can this happen now and didn't happen before?
"The minister has jumped from one problem to the next and really should be taking a pro-active grip of his department and ensure that when problems are identified they are dealt with and not left to fester and get worse."
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