A&E crisis: Cuts to blame, not patients
The semi-permanent crisis in our accident and emergency services was heightened by the annual spike in attendance around the Christmas period. Seriously ill patients were left waiting on trolleys for hours and people with broken bones were sent home with a handful of painkillers because of the pressure. Ambulances were temporarily directed away from the South Western Acute Hospital in Enniskillen, with patients being sent to Derry instead.
Senior health trust management and the politicians seem very keen to stress that they know the source of the problem – it’s us! They blame us for seeking treatment at A&E units for ‘minor injuries and ailments’, as if people really enjoy sitting in casualty for hours upon end. As usual, vulnerable people such as alcoholics and people with mental health problems were particularly scapegoated. Long waits for GP appointments and even urgent out-of-hours services are ignored. All of this is a convenient way to divert attention from the real source of the crisis – Stormont’s health cuts!
Our A&E units are understaffed, with overworked doctors and nurses providing care. Non-emergency paediatric nurses at Antrim Area Hospital recently voted to strike against attempts to force them to work in casualty, against best medical practise, successfully pushing management into talks. Since 2010, we have seen the closure of A&E units at Belfast City, Whiteabbey and Mid-Ulster hospitals, as well as cuts to opening hours at Lagan Valley and Downe Hospital.
The pattern was always the same – units were under-resourced until the point when senior management could declare them ‘unsafe’ and then closed or cut. The Belfast City A&E’s “temporary” closure became permanent, as campaigners warned it would. The Mater A&E is next on the chopping block, with Belfast Health Trust management aiming to leave the Royal as the only fully-functioning acute hospital in the city.
This is a life-and-death question. We must reject attempts by politicians and management to pit hospitals and communities against each other in a competition for vital services, as we have seen in the past. Instead, trade unions and communities must stand shoulder-to-shoulder to resist any further cuts to A&E units and demand that they are adequately staffed and resourced to ensure everyone can access the treatment they need in an emergency