CONCERNS have been expressed after the urgent care unit at the new Omagh Hospital was reduced to a skeleton staff on Wednesday.
One patient who attended the unit told the Tyrone Herald that the staff were placed under enormous stress after they were reduced to just one nurse practitioner and one auxiliary nurse for a period.
The Urgent Care and Treatment Centre opened in the new £105m Omagh Hospital and Primary Care Complex last June.
It’s understood that the normal guidelines require two nursing practitioners and two auxiliary nurses.
The Western Trust said the nurse led unit, which treats minor injuries, “Had the required staffing allocated,” on Wednesday.
However a spokesperson said, “Due to unforeseen circumstances the staffing levels changed. Appropriate measures were immediately put in place to ensure the safe and timely treatment of patients.
“While patients in urgent need of care are given priority, patients with less serious conditions may have had to wait while more urgent cases were seen by medical staff.”
Andy McKane of Unison said he was not surprised by last week’s development.
He said when the staff contacted senior management over the problem on Wednesday, “They were more or less told to beg, borrow or steal from other units. But the reality is that the skills are different to those required to work in urgent care.”
The union representative said while staffing levels had returned to normal on Thursday, the issue over vacant posts remains a significant problem for the health service.
“The agreed staffing levels for nursing units both in mental health and in general are being breached on a daily basis,” he claimed.
“There is a difficulty in recruitment and in retention.
“The Western Trust is extremely bad at recruitment.
“They seem to want to work on a skeleton basis and try and fill it with ‘bank’ (temporary staff). It’s an ad-hoc approach to staffing.”
Two weeks ago it emerged that almost 700 toddlers in the Western Trust had not undergone their annual review with their health visitor due to staff shortage.
The BBC reported nine vacancies in the northern end of the Trust and three in the Omagh and Fermanagh area.
Staffing also remains a significant issue in the out of hours GP clinic at the Omagh Hospital complex.
In October this newspaper revealed the clinic had been under-staffed or without a doctor on 28 occasions inside a month.
On Thursday the Department of Health announced that it is to spend £30m on tackling hospital waiting lists.
The funding will be taken from a £100m pot of money set aside for transforming the health service, which was secured under the DUP’s confidence and supply agreement with the British government.
Meanwhile the government in London has announced a pay rise for NHS staff in England of at least 6.5 per-cent over three years.
While the Barnett formula should mean more funding for health in the North as a result, unions have said the extra funding should be used to ensure NHS staff are paid as well as their counterparts in England.
Andy McKane described health workers in Northern Ireland as the ‘worst paid in the UK’.
“Our priority in Unison is pay parity with the rest or the UK immediately,” he said.