There have been calls for a long-term plan to be put in place to ensure continuing of services at Daisy Hill Hospital.
It comes after the Southern Health Trust announced a “stability plan” for the Newry hospital to cover the summer months.
On Thursday, the Southern Trust said it had agreed the plan to stabilise inpatient medical services at Daisy Hill at its Trust Board meeting, which took place at Monaghan Row in Newry.
The plan focuses on immediately stabilising services for the summer months in light of challenges with senior medical cover.
According to the Trust, work will continue to secure the longer term sustainability of the hospital, with input from the Department of Health and wider HSC system.
The plan secures the acute status of Daisy Hill Hospital and maintains the Emergency Department on a 24/7 basis whilst minimising impact on other services.
Speaking at the meeting, Trust Chief Executive Dr Maria O’Kane said: “I would like to thank our own staff and regional colleagues who have worked intensively to find a solution to maintaining services and patient safety at Daisy Hill.
“Our medical team in particular have been working under extremely difficult circumstances and have shown great dedication to securing the service whilst supporting medical education and training.
“The aim of this process has been to find a sustainable way forward for the hospital, its patients and staff. Ensuring patient safety and supporting our staff have been absolute priorities.
“We want to develop more alternatives to inpatient medical admissions where appropriate and improve patient flow and discharge. Patients should continue to use the hospital as referred by their health care professional.
“Patients with less urgent symptoms should phone first between 9am and 9pm Monday to Friday 0300 123 3 111. With acute life threatening symptoms always phone 999 or take the patient to their nearest ED, where our dedicated team will assess them and ensure they get the most appropriate care.”
Patients, it was stressed, should always phone 999 with suspected stroke symptoms.
Due to a shortage of stroke consultants at Daisy Hill Hospital, all suspected acute stroke patients being transferred to hospital by ambulance are being diverted to an alternative Emergency Department. Arrangements are in place 24/7 for patients who present at Daisy Hill ED and are assessed as having a stroke. They will receive appropriate treatment including thrombolysis, on site.
Patients will be transferred to Craigavon Area or the Royal Victoria Hospital for acute stroke care and those who require continued rehabilitation will return to Daisy Hill Hospital Stroke/Rehab ward.
A Chief Operating Officer for Daisy Hill has been appointed and three senior medical consultants from Craigavon Hospital will be providing support to the Daisy Hill team.
A temporary MRI scanner has been secured for the Daisy Hill site to reduce transfers for diagnostics and additional private ambulance cover will transport patients between Daisy Hill and Craigavon Area hospitals, if needed.
Dr O’Kane continued: “Whilst we are now more optimistic about stabilising services, rising demand, financial and workforce pressures and the need for modernisation, remain very real challenges across health and social care.
“We continue to work with regional colleagues to address these issues and on agreeing a permanent plan for the future of all local hospitals.
“We greatly welcome the strength of public support for staff and services at Daisy Hill. We are currently working on our longer term vision for the hospital, which, building on recent developments like the electrical investment, Monaghan Row acquisition, Community Care and Treatment Centre and regional elective surgical hub, aims to maintain and promote Daisy Hill as an essential part of the regional acute network.”
Sinn Féin MLA Liz Kimmins, meanwhile, has said that the new proposals to stabilise Daisy Hill are “an improvement”.
But she insists that there is still much work to be done.
The Newry and Armagh MLA said: “The proposals are an improvement over previous suggestions from the Trust and will help to stabilise the current crisis at Daisy Hill.
“We’ve met with both the head of the Health Department and the Trust many times in recent weeks pressing them to secure the best possible plan to secure services at the hospital.
“This crisis has come from the total failure in management by the Trust and while these proposals are a step in the right direction, they have much work to do in order to rebuild the confidence of both Hospital staff and the community.
“They must now demonstrate their commitment to securing the long term future of Daisy Hill in real actions, not just words.
“We will meet the head of the Southern trust tomorrow morning and make it clear that they need to get to work immediately on stabilising our services and delivering a real, long term plan for the future of the hospital.”