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Summit seeks solutions to Northern Ireland's A&E woes

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Some of Northern Ireland’s most senior health professionals are today holding a summit on the pressures facing unscheduled and accident and emergency care there.

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 College of Emergency Medicine, brings together representatives from nursing, hospital medicine, general practice, social work, allied health professionals, and managers.

A similar meeting was held in February, which was organised by the Royal College of Nursing’s emergency care network.

The latest summit will attempt to identify how to maximise the effectiveness of urgent and unscheduled care services in Northern Ireland. It is also due to examine the challenges facing services regionally and nationally, and identify best practice and successful strategies on which to build greater capacity and resilience across unscheduled care.

No media was allowed to attend the meeting, but Northern Ireland health minister Edwin Poots was due to tell delegates that “no suggestion is off the table” when it comes to finding solutions to improve the quality of unscheduled and emergency care.

“I am under no illusion that we will solve all of the challenges facing us in any one day”

Edwin Poots

In a statement issued before the meeting, he said: “This summit is about whole system solutions.

“An ageing population together with the increasingly complex nature of healthcare interventions, is challenging health systems everywhere,” he said. “These challenges are by no means unique to Northern Ireland, nor to the UK for that matter.

Edwin Poots

Edwin Poots

He added: “We must recognise our own limitations. I am under no illusion that we will solve all of the challenges facing us in any one day, or in any one summit.

“I have asked the college to work with my department and the wider health sector to ensure that the outputs of the workstreams are captured and that learning and recommendations are developed which can be shared in a 60 day follow-up event to be held on 9 June 2014.”

Dr Clifford Mann, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, said: “We hope as a result of working collaboratively to develop common solutions based on reliable data, informed analysis and best practice the summit will be a catalyst for change and ensure the winter of 2014-15 is less challenging than 2013-14.”

Janice Smyth, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said the college had been “raising serious concerns about emergency care for at least two years”.

“As we have said before, the problems we are still seeing in our emergency departments reflect a much wider problem across the health and social care system,” she said. “We need to look at the functioning of the wider system in order to fully resolve these issues in the interests of patients and clients.”

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