By Paul Ainsworth

A BELFAST TRUST spokesman has said that the closure of Belfast City Hospital’s Accident and Emergency ward may actually be of benefit to the very ill.

The Trust spokesman was speaking at a press conference last Thursday where health bosses faced difficult questions over what exactly patients and those suffering a medical emergency will have to consider now the doors of the City’s A&E department are shut.

The A&E ward at the City Hospital is closed as of yesterday (November 1), with local residents being urged not to turn up at the site for the service.  Belfast Health Trust staff have admitted it is “unlikely” to reopen at any stage in the near future, despite initially being described as a “temporary closure”.

Newly-erected hoarding makes sure visitors get the message that no help is available.

In light of the controversial move – blamed on a lack of qualified doctors to oversee A&E services – people living across the wider South Belfast area have been told if they do present at the hospital they will be shipped to the Royal Victoria Hospital in West Belfast or North Belfast’s Mater Hospital by ambulance if their condition is serious, or asked to make their own way.

At the press conference last week the South Belfast News asked how much longer A&E patients can expect to wait in the RVH, due to the influx of arrivals on the already overstretched Royal staff. However, a Trust spokesman insisted there would be no extra waiting time, as “priority patients” with more serious conditions would always be seen first.

“If you attend the Royal, you’re more likely to be seen by a more experienced person than if you had attended the City, due to the shortage of staff,” he replied. “There may be some advantage for those who are very sick.”

An ambulance service has been put in place from 8am on Tuesday to transfer emergency patients to other hospitals, including the Mater, while locals have been advised they can still seek direct admission to the City Hospital by consulting their local GP rather than landing at A&E. The Trust also revealed an extra nine patient cubicles have been erected at the Royal’s busy A&E to help relieve the expected increase in demand, while nursing staff from the now-shut City A&E have been dispersed to the Mater and the RVH.

As for the City A&E reopening, the prospect looks bleak, as Trust Chief Executive Colm Donaghy said: “If we get the sufficient doctors needed, we will reinstate the A&E at the City, and the Trust is expected to hold a public consultation.

“However, the A&E is unlikely to reopen before that period.”

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