Down Community Health Committee Hits Raw Nerves

Down Community Health Committee meeting addresses some key issues in local health care

It was a busy night of discussion for the attendees of the Down Community Health Committee (DCHC) open meeting held in Denvir’s Hotel in Downpatrick on Monday evening (8th April 2024).

DCHC chair Eamonn McGrady welcomed everyone to the meeting saying the agenda was “busy” this evening with some important issues that needed to be examined.

Endoscopy Service Under Scrutiny

Endoscopy Services came under the microscope first for consideration.

South Down MP Chris Hazzard expressed his concern saying that “there could be an undermining of endoscopy services at the Downe Hospital in the day procedures unit.”

He referred to a letter from the South Eastern HSC Trust and with conversations with staff and had concerns about the decontamination of equipment at the Ulster Hospital

He said” “Their seems to be issues with team leadership and waiting times are increasing – these hiccups appear to be caused through centralisation of services… there just seems to be salami slicing going on in the health service and it’s worrying.

“Therefore, it was good to give staff a voice to discuss their concerns. I’ve been very active on this issue. It has taken up more time that other health items that are presenting and it is something that needs to be addressed.

“We are now fighting against the big narrative of ‘transformation’ “.

Downpatrick resident Ciara Burns said that it would be “detrimental” to remove this diagnostic service from the Downe Hospital.

She added: “My daughter also suffers from a bowel complaint and I suffer from Chrone’s disease and get a check once a year. My daughter said that when she has had screenings at the Ulster hospital she has had to drive home while in considerable pain and discomfort following the procedure.”

Local South Down healthcare was discussed at the Down Community Health Committee meeting addressing key matters such as endoscopy and patient handover times from the NIAS.

Her daughter Caoimhe Kelly added that “there were times I could hardly drive from Knocknashinna in Downpatrick to the Downe Hospital never mind from the Ulster Hospital after a procedure.”

Ciara added: “I live in a home with three children who have bowel complaints and my mother has a brain injury. My family depend on local services for their high level of care.

“To suggest that a GP could do the procedure is just scandalous. I just find it very hard to get to the hospital and at the same time care for my mother.”

Eamonn MCGrady thanked Ciara and Caoimhe for sharing her story and concerns, and he added that the experience of ordinary people does not resonate with a ‘lets support transformation of health services agenda’. He said we should have the health services we are entitled to.

South Down MLA Colin McGrath said that he had already contacted the South Eastern HSC Trust and the update referred to “efficiency” measures. He said: “Where efficiency is mentioned in an area we just lose out on services.

“There will be an opportunity to discuss health issues at Stormont [on Tuesday] and we need to pin down why funding is not coming to this area for our healthcare.”

Clare Keenan from Downpatrick, who has a bowel condition, also spoke at the meeting on the issue of endoscopy and said: “I had a 7-hour operation and have part of my bowel removed due to polyps.

“I’ve had an colonscopy every year since. It is unaccepaible to change that to a bi-annual review. Who knows how quickly the polyps grow? That’s why we need regular, local services.

“I’ve seen some awful things while in my time in hospital such as a man with serious kidney problems needing attention in A&E while doctors deal with drunken patients accompanied by police officers with six police car outside.

“And I’ve seen the situations when there are people displaced and lying in corridors waiting for treatment.

“Even now our politicians are not being listened too. I’ve seen nurses just fed up with the constant issues they are faced.

“All people should have a suitable screening service available especially at the end of life.”

After discussion it was agreed to keep an eye on the delivery of services around endoscopy.

Patient Turnaround Figures Alarming For Ulster Hospital Says DCHC Chair

In the discussion about ambulance turnaround at local hospitals, Eamonn McGrady produced copies of figures from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) from an FOI request.

He explained that the Ulster hospital had the worst average handover times at 2 hours 27 minutes and the longest maximum handover time at 16 hours.

In the response from the NIAS, Mr McGrady explained that patients are constantly monitored by the paramedics prior to the handover to the hospital and that they can have drinks or sustenance if required. This is delivered with the help of staff in the hospital.

However, he clarified that the paramedics are not trained in holistic care which is outwith the training of the ambulance clinician.

The FOI indicated that the NIAS is working with the hospital Trusts and is exploring ways for the patient to enter the clinical care setting by avoiding the ED where possible.

Commenting on the NIAS response, Chris Hassard MP said: “This is another key service which has a direct impact on people in this area.”

And Colin McGrath MLA said: “Basically all roads lead to the Minister. People are getting battle fatique fighting so many health issues.”

Eamonn McGrady said: ” Stormont is now back up and running. If it can’t deliver on these basic services then it is not worth having. We’d be better off with a benevolent civil service.

“There is no criticism on the staff at the hospital. This is about the system. We just wonder why there are such big disparities in the delivery of the service in South Down giving rise to massive delays.”

He noted that 54 doctors have been taken in from Mumbai to the Southern HSC Trust and questioned why this principle could not be used to fill gaps with doctors in the South Eastern HSC Trust.

He added: “When you have a service that is on a bad path, you need to sort out the policy.

“Quite simply, these issue affect people’s lives and policy changes can lead to life-changing situations for people in that area and ultimately how we value those services.

“Perhaps now it is time for the Department of Health to intervene in this issue and provide some clarity as to why some hospitals ahve long turnaround times.

“We are all entitled to the same basis of health care in the NHS.”

Also, he noted the situation for many unpaid carers was unacceptable and that they needed more support financially and in other ways.

Colin McGrath explained that from his own experience “I was recently waiting for several hours for an ambulance for my mother then we had another long wait at the Ulster Hospital for admission.

“I fully understands the predicament people face when waiting for an ambulance in an emergency situation. It’s very stressful.

“The NIAS has the smallest budget of all the Trusts but is placed in this difficult situation where turnaround is often very difficult due to a number of pressures in the hospital system. This needs to be fixed asap.


South Eastern HSC Trust Comments On Patients Turnaround

A spokesperson for the South Eastern HSC Trust said: “Long waiting times are regrettably being experienced across every Trust in the Region and these have been well documented.

“This is not the service we want to be provide. Unfortunately demand for care continues to outstrip current capacity.

“Despite the significant pressures, there has been an improvement in ambulance turnaround times at the Ulster Hospital since mid-February, with a reduction in average turnaround times of 23%, despite having an 12.7% increase in ambulance arrivals.

“Staff in our Emergency Department (ED), who liaise very closely with our colleagues in NIAS, are working very hard to see patients as quickly as possible, according to clinical need.

“Our ED team will always treat the most acutely unwell patients first. 

“The Trust works closely with NIAS and Regional colleagues to maximise the care delivered locally to people in the Downpatrick area. 

“Patients going to the right place, first time, without delay provides the best outcome, which means that some people may travel from the South Down area to the Ulster Hospital for specific treatments. 

“Feedback from NIAS is that appropriate attendances to the Downe Hospital are well facilitated and staff provide a high level of care to the local community.

“Patient safety remains our top priority.

“Teams across the hospital and in the community are working together to ensure that every effort is being made to discharge patients who no longer need an acute hospital bed, creating space in our wards so patients can be transferred out of ED.

“This facilitates the admission of patients into the Emergency Department as soon as possible.

“To help alleviate pressures within our Emergency Department and on NIAS, we would appeal to patients to leave hospital when they are deemed medically fit.”