HOSPITAL workers in Northern Ireland are prepared to take industrial action against hospital closures, Unison said yesterday, after a ‘major incident’ occurred at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast on Wednesday night as a backlog of 42 people waited on trolleys in the A&E.
Additional staff had to be called in and extra beds opened to attempt to relieve pressure on the department.
Eamonn Hughes was at the hospital as his brother, Patrick, needed emergency treatment.
He described the scene as ‘seven hours of sheer hell’, adding: ‘It was like something you would see in third world countries.
‘The staff were overworked. There were hundreds of people who were not being attended to.
‘This is a normal Wednesday night. There are no major disasters, thankfully, or car crashes, so I dread to think what would happen if something abnormal happened.’
Referring to hospital closures which contributed to the crisis, Patricia McKeown, Unison Regional Secretary of Northern Ireland, told News Line: ‘This is a political decision taken by the Minister of Health, by the Health and Social Care board, on the future direction of health services in Northern Ireland and the consequences of the budget cuts in health in 2007, the outworking of which is causing a series of crises.
‘Current proposals are for further bed reductions and we have already had the outrageous decisions over the Xmas decisions to close Lagan Valley and the Downe Hospital in Downe Patrick.
‘There have already been three closures, the first of which was the A&E departments at Mid Ulster Hospital and White Abbey hospital, which we were assured it would not put pressure on the A&E departments in the Northern area, in Antrim Hospital and Causeway Hospital.
‘In fact, these created crises in both hospitals also had a knock on effect for A&E services in Belfast.
‘In the drive to centralise Belfast A&E services, the Minister of the Health Care Board then approved the closure of the A&E departments in the Belfast City Hospital, thus putting the largest hospital, the Royal Victoria, and the Mater hospital in North Belfast in a state of constant crises.
‘Unison is demanding an independent inquiry into our A&E services across Northern Ireland.
‘The safety of ordinary people has been put at risk by bad decisions on healthcare delivery which cannot be justified.
‘Unison members in Lagan Valley already had a protest outside the hospital after xmas.
‘A demonstration took place at twelve noon on Thursday outside the Royal Victoria Hospital.
‘We are going into emergency meetings with the Trusts and we are now making this call for an independent inquiry.
‘Aneurin Bevan said that the National Health Service would last as long as there were folk with the faith to fight for it. We will fight for it.
‘We will not rule out industrial action, we have been forced to take industrial action in the past and we will not hesitate to do it again.
‘In 2011, Unison members came out on strike across the entire health service in Northern Ireland to highlight the impact of budget cuts, closures and inappropriate re-organisation, and we are prepared to do it again.’
Janice Smyth from the Royal College of Nursing said the situation on Wednesday night was ‘quite horrendous’ and ‘totally unacceptable’.
She added: ‘The pressure on that department has been building.
‘We are really concerned that the situation was allowed to develop to the point that we had to implement a major incident to deal with it.
‘Nurses are really concerned that patients are not getting the care they need and they’re certainly not getting it in a dignified manner.’