Emergency department nurses say care ‘being compromised at every level’

Over-stretched staff tell RCN meeting in Northern Ireland that acutely unwell patients are facing long waits in corridors and ambulances

Over-stretched staff tell RCN meeting in Northern Ireland that acutely unwell patients are facing long waits in corridors and ambulances

Ambulances wait to admit patients at Antrim Area Hospital in Northern Ireland. Picture: Alamy

Emergency nurses in Northern Ireland are in despair about mounting pressures on emergency departments that have left them ‘at the point of collapse’, a union has said.

An emergency meeting of the RCN in Northern Ireland heard departments were crammed with patients on trollies while others waited outside in ambulances.

RCN calls for urgent action to support emergency nurses

Nurses told the meeting that quality of care was ‘being compromised at every level’ because staff did not have the space or capacity to look after patients safely.

The meeting, which took place last week, was convened by RCN Northern Ireland’s Emergency Nurse Network. The network has since written to Northern Ireland’s Department of Health, health and care regulator, and health and social care trusts, calling for urgent action.

‘Patients have no dignity in their care’

Network chair Linsey Sheerin said experienced emergency care nurses felt they were ‘running out of options’ in trying to resolve the problems.

‘We are facing situations where we have no resources to give good, basic care. And patients – particularly those on corridors – have no dignity in their care,’ she said.

‘This is not a nursing failure – it is a system failure and has been going on for a long time. Patients are being let down and nursing staff are being let down.’

Long waits mean ambulances are stuck outside hospitals

Ms Sheerin said nurses were regularly faced with up to 60 or more patients on trollies in emergency care.

‘These patients are often acutely unwell and something needs to be done urgently to free up space within hospitals,’ she added.

‘It is completely unacceptable to every member of nursing staff that patients should face long waits in ambulances that may be urgently needed elsewhere.’

Trust warns patients on social media

Northern Health and Social Care Trust, which runs numerous hospitals in Northern Ireland, tweeted last month to highlight pressures on its emergency departments:

Nurse staffing crisis in Northern Ireland

Trusts across Northern Ireland have been hit by severe staffing shortages exacerbated by COVID-19-related absences and burnt-out nurses quitting.

An investigation by Nursing Standard found 579 nurses resigned from Belfast Health and Social Care Trust in 2021 – one of the highest number of nurse resignations seen among trusts in the UK.

Nursing managers at the trust have been forced to redeploy staff to fill rota gaps and call on off-duty nurses to come in and work.

Government to publish emergency care review

Northern Ireland health minister Robin Swann said there was ‘no quick fix’ to the pressures facing emergency departments, adding that the government would be publishing a long-term urgent and emergency care review.

‘I fully recognise the severe pressures facing our system and, in particular, our emergency departments,’ he said. ‘Far too many people are waiting far too long to access urgent and emergency care services. This is unacceptable and falls far short of the service we strive to provide.

‘Our staff continue to do all they can to provide the best possible service in hugely challenging circumstances. We owe it to them and everyone using these services to do better.’

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