Northern Ireland healthcare workforce planning failure leave staff firefighting on daily basis

Workforce planning failures mean the health service in Northern Ireland is 'firefighting on a day-in-day out basis'. UTV was given exclusive access to two new planned surgical hubs in the Western Trust to see how the system can work. We got inside the day procedure centre at Omagh Hospital where patients can come in, get their surgery and be back to work the same day. "I actually love coming here because when you do I'm just doing elective surgery there's no waits, there's no we've just got to go off and do something else that has just come through the door," said Mr Zola Mzimba Consultant General Surgeon. The Tyrone centre is one of two in Northern Ireland. Ideally 12 patients a day can be treated.

Staff shortages across the system are causing a crisis in patient care. Dr David Farren chair of the BMA’s Northern Ireland consultant’s committee told UTV workforce planning was 'not functioning well'.

"It means emergency care becomes the only thing you can do. You are effectively firefighting on a day in day out basis ... we are reaching a point where services are being threatened by either collapse completely or planned closures or moved."

Northern Ireland has the longest waiting times in the UK. Inside the first overnight planned surgical hub at the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen staff treated 10 patients in just two days. Hubs like this are all part of the transformation of the health service. The Department of Health in November 2022 said the South West Acute Hospital would become a regional Elective Centre for patients requiring inpatient stay following planned surgeries.

Western Trust Chief Executive, Neil Guckian said: “We are delighted to see the first overnight elective procedures taking place at South West Acute Hospital. This is only the beginning of what is a very exciting development for SWAH, as we work hard to ensure that our theatre capacity across the hospital is increased for the benefit of the growing numbers of patients on long waiting lists. Mark Taylor of the Royal College of Surgeons told UTV: "We always known you separate emergency and elective care ... every single year in life we have cancelled elective surgery because of emergencies.

"This overnight stay facility in the South West Acute Hospital is a surgical hub, it is protected from beds being used for some other purpose." Only months ago emergency surgery at the Fermanagh site was temporarily suspended because the Western Trust said it didn't have the staff. This move has angered many in the community as patients will have to travel - some over an hour. Neil Guckian added: “I understand the concern felt by the local population of Fermanagh and Tyrone following the temporary suspension of Emergency General Surgery at the hospital, however, the continued expansion of the Elective Overnight Stay Centre will help to ensure SWAH has a vibrant future.” Both planned surgical facilities are examples of how the system can work but with empty rotas causing major staffing issues keeping them going will be the challenge.

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