Close to declaring a ‘major incident’ at Craigavon Hospital and 500 plus waiting on a care package, Southern Health Trust chief reveals what is happening

More than 500 people are waiting on care packages from the Southern Health Trust amid a crisis at Craigavon Hospital this week.

Days after the Trust said it was ‘exceptionally close’ to declaring a major incident, its Chief Executive spoke to this newspaper on the challenges of recent weeks.

Shane Devlin revealed there were 123 COVID patients in Craigavon Hospital on Saturday ‘by far the highest number in any hospital in NI at the weekend’.

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“We had, at one point, 108 people waiting (in the Emergency Department). We had 32 of those patients needing a bed and we only had three beds,” said Mr Devlin.

It was on Sunday that the Trust, in partnership with the NI Ambulance Service and other health trusts, decided to divert all ambulances apart from those patients 
suffering the most life-
threatening illnesses.

Mr Devlin admits there are staffing ‘challenges’, particularly with COVID. “In any given day we could have 300 to 350 people off with COVID related absence. That doesn’t mean they have COVID but maybe isolating. That obviously adds to pressure on our system.”

Mr Devlin added that as COVID patients tend to stay in hospital three times longer, it has affected the ‘flow’ of patients in and out of hospital.

He dismissed suggestions that GPs were an issue.

“Everyone in the health service, including GPs, is working at an almighty rate at the moment to try to meet demand. I do know the levels of demand, both phone calls and face-to-face, the GPs are doing is enormous and greater than it has been before.”

He admitted the Out of Hours Service is ‘extraordinarily busy’ and that has led to long waits for call backs. But their major problem is recruiting domiciliary care staff, revealed Mr Devlin.

With more than 500 people are waiting on a care package from the Southern Health Trust, Mr Devlin said it is their biggest challenge.

“We do have a considerable shortage of packages. Our packages are provided by our own team and then teams in the private sector.

“What we are now struggling - we have in excess of 500 unfilled packages. That doesn’t mean they are all in hospital. Some of these people might be in hospital waiting for a package or they might be in their own home waiting for their package to be enhanced.

“This is because we cannot get the domiciliary care workforce that we need, both private and our own sector. We are constantly out to recruit for domiciliary care workers and I know the private sector are also but we cannot fill all of the vacancies and that absolutely has an impact on the hospital.

“The ones who are in hospital, are obviously not able to go home until they get it (the package) so they might stay in hospital longer than they should do or we might need to move those people to a nursing home or a care home until their package is ready.

“ There are those who need an enhancement in their care at home.

“We are clearly working with them to risk assess them and keep them safe and we are doing that but there will be an optimal level of care they need that we haven’t been able to get to.

“So therefore they are not getting everything that they want or need. That is a big challenge for us - can we get domiciliary care to grow to be able to keep people safe in their own home?” said Mr Devlin.

The Chief Executive also dismissed claims that difficulties within the GP sector are to blame for added pressures in Craigavon’s Emergency Department.

Asked if there are issues regarding a lack of GPs or sufficient Out of Hour Service cover leading to more people attending the Emergency Department, Mr Devlin said: “In terms of the GPs, I don’t employ the GPs. However I have not seen a huge amount of evidence of that. What I would stress is that I know people have their issues with their individual GPs and they have raised those through various media. I don’t have responsibility for that and I can’t personally say that is the case or not.

“What I do know is that everyone in the health service including GPs is working at an almighty rate at the moment to try to meet demand. I do know the levels of demand both phone calls and face-to-face the GPs are doing is enormous and greater than it has been before.

“I appreciate there will be some people aren’t feeling that but in the same way that when I get really busy and when my ED gets really busy, it turns into people waiting. When the GP is really busy it turns into a telephone call hanging on. Everyone is just unbelievably busy.

With regard to Out of Hours which the Trust runs, he said: “We have been able to secure GP Out of Hours but again it is just so extraordinarily busy. We are experiencing some very long call back, there is no doubt about that. People then maybe make choices if they can’t get a call back, then they may go to ED themselves. We now have Phone First which is being extended to seven days a week. That will enable the public to ring Phone First and they will guide them as to where is the best place to go.”




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