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Shortage of Belfast nurses sparks emergency summit with minister

A “major problem” in Northern Ireland’s accident and emergency units is placing staff under extreme pressure and putting patients at risk, nurses have warned.

This was the stark message given to Northern Ireland health minister Edwin Poots at an emergency care summit last week in Belfast.

Royal Victoria Hospital

Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast

It follows a number of incidents highlighting the strain on Northern Ireland’s emergency services, including a major incident at the Royal Victoria Hospital last month and five deaths there in 2013.

The summit, organised by the Royal College of Nursing’s emergency care network, was attended by 50 frontline nurses, as well as managers and doctors.

Speaking to Nursing Times after the summit, RCN Northern Ireland director Janice Smyth said nurses wanted everybody at “senior level to recognise that we had got a real problem in our system”.

They also wanted them to realise the situation was putting nurses in a position “where they were compromising the care they could give to patients and, in doing so, causing them undue stress and giving real cause for concern about their registration being compromised,” she said.

“There was a reluctance to accept that we had a serious problem”

Janice Smyth

Ms Smyth said the major incident at the Royal Victoria in early January, where a large backlog of patients led to lengthy waiting times in A&E, was initially put down to a spike in attendance.

“Our information from nurses on the ground was that was not the case,” she said. “We knew pressure had been building from November last year – there was a reluctance to accept that we had a serious problem.”

A&E was “not staffed to treat patients coming through the system, plus look after 40 on trolleys”, she said.

“There was an over-reliance on bank staff,” she added. “Gaps were plugged with nurses from the bank who may not have been in an emergency department before and that actually added an additional burden.”

Ms Smyth also highlighted that the issue went beyond A&E, with reductions in homecare workers and district nurses. “The problem manifests itself in the emergency department but actually it’s a systemic problem.”

“There was an over-reliance on bank staff… that actually added an additional burden”

Janice Smyth

Mr Poots praised the work of A&E nurses and told the summit that “important work will be taken forward which clearly sets out key professional standards for emergency department nursing”.

Edwin Poots

Edwin Poots

He said: “I am deeply thankful for the unending commitment demonstrated by emergency department nurses often in difficult and challenging situations. Nurses hold a unique role as you remain with the patient on their journey through health care.”

“It has been agreed that important work will be taken forward which clearly sets out key professional standards for emergency department nursing,” he added. “This will also include work to develop a career pathway for emergency department nurses.”

Readers' comments (6)

  • michael stone

    Get staff to 'be more productive' (which usually equals 'under more pressure' ), employ less nurses, etc, to save money, then as a result 'have a crisis that hits the headlines' and at that point conclude 'we need more nurses/doctors/porters' - is it me, or is this rather predictable as a plotline ?

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  • How about paying nurses a decent living salary for the job they do? With inflation and no pay increases of 3 years, we are feeling the pinch. It's not an attractive career for young people.

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  • Again!

    Another failure of Senior Nurse "management"

    When will these clowns learn ?

    Filling an A/E Dept with specialty naive bank/agency nurses is no solution .

    Such a "solution" places great stress on those few "specialty " qualified nurses.

    But lets not worry to much the "Director of Nursing" who could not manage one active clinical shift in A/E, will be awarded an indecent "Bonus" whilst the pleb nurses receive at the best a 1% award !

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  • There really seems to be a lot of thick headed or stupid nurses at top level.
    They really cannot run the shop, or they just don't care a damm as long as they get their pay at the end of the month.
    Where are the Professionals and I don't mean the Business Professionals I mean the Nursing Professionals.

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  • Mr Poots is talking politician talk without promising more staff. He is deeply thankful and blah blah blah, nothing new here. We could blame our hospital managers but it goes higher than that, to the Minister responsible. Not enough money put in to health then everybody down the chain suffers.

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  • Always the same, when we need nurse leaders, we get managers. I've often wondered what was the criteria for promotion to a senior post. Mainly, from what I could see, it was whether one smoked or not. None seemed to be particularly bright, most were quite egotistical. Over a period of years I watched a good hospital driven into the ground. These morons appeared quite pleased with their ability to shave budgets. They cut so much money from one ward, we had to dry patients with pillow cases.

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