Staff ‘struggle to cope at A&E’

south west Acute Hospital

THE South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) endured its ‘worst ever’ weekend since opening as 18 patients were left waiting for beds in A & E as staff struggled to cope with the increased demand.

According to trade union UNISON, the A &E department at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) in Enniskillen experienced extreme difficulties over the weekend.

On Monday morning at SWAH, 18 patients were waiting in A &E to be allocated beds and of these 18 patients, five breached the 12 hour waiting time.


At time of going to press the Western Health Trust declined to comment.

The union states that the Western Health Trust had to open up approximately an additional 20 beds to cope with patients attending A &E and made the assertion that the hospital’s A &E has been ‘running at full capacity for a considerable amount of time’.

Joe McCusker, UNISON regional organiser explained that while hospitals in Great Britain occupy at an 80 -85% bed occupany, here in the North that figure is 95%.
“Any rate of increase tips them over the edge. With any increase in demand they do not have the bed capacity to facilitate. Things got to a point at the weekend where staff felt they had to speak out.”

A source at the South West Acute Hospital described last weekend’s extreme pressures at the Accident & Emergency department as, ‘the worst’ ever seen since the hospital opened in June, 2012.

“Normally our performance in our hospital is not bad but, last week, it was a bad situation,” the source said, adding that, normally, medical assessment patients are seen by their GP and are then allocated beds in the hospital’s assessment unit.

“If there are no beds for them there, as was the case at the weekend, they have to go to casualty until a bed is available. “In other hospitals, they are placed on trolleys but, in the South West, we can put them into A & E beds, which is what was done here.”

Jill Weir, the Fermanagh/Omagh branch secretary for UNISON said, “thankfully, by the grace of God, nothing major came through that door, It there had been a road traffic accident  it would have been a different story.”


She called the last few days in the hospital ‘horrendous’ with staff left “stressed, exhausted and drained.”

“This is the first time I have had staff coming to me saying how bad it was. SWAH is usually one of the best for reaching its targets, but it has been an horrendous weekend for staff. They are totally, exhausted, strained and drained.

“They were doing 12 hour shifts and maybe not getting a break. They were not only dealing with people coming in, but because they had 18 people sitting waiting to be allocated beds they had to look after them also.

“This not just an A & E crisis, it is a bed crisis. Each ward would be extended to capacity. Say a ward has 20 patients they are all sitting on 22, 23. They are all sitting on that without the impact of A & E. It has been a trend of recent weeks. The patients have nowhere to go.”

“With transforming your care that will cut another 108 beds province wide. What will we do then? We could see potentially 20 beds in the hospital go over time.”

Another problem facing the hospital is the use of the private ward operated by 3fivetwo to deal with the increasing demand.

“I would be questioning who is looking after them? I hope it is not us paying a private company to look after NHS patients.”

When asked for a reason behind the madness of the weekend Jill suggested the closure of Omagh A & E as a potential factor.

“We’re the most Western A & E this is what you’re up against.”

UNISON are demanding that the Health Minister Edwin Poots take urgent action to ensure the fast tracking of increased bed capacity and recruitment of additional staff to ease the pressure on A&E services and avert any more ‘major incidents’ being declared.

At the time of going to press the Western Trust had not commented on the weekend’s activities at the South West Acute Hospital

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