Royal Victoria Hospital: Porter 'fed up of seeing nurses cry' over A&E problems
A porter at Northern Ireland's biggest accident and emergency department has said he is "fed up watching our nurses cry" following problems in the unit.
Staff declared a "major incident" at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) on Wednesday, due to a large backlog of patients at the A&E department.
At one stage, 42 people were waiting on trolleys.
RVH porter Pat Neeson, who has worked at the hospital for several years, said the unit looked like a "war zone".
Extra staff had to be called in and extra beds were opened to relieve pressure on the unit.
The Belfast Trust said the situation was brought under control just before midnight.
Mr Neeson, who is also a union health and safety officer, told the BBC: "I can only describe it as looking like something out of a war zone.
"I am fed up watching our nurses cry. I am fed up watching doctors standing in the corridors and the only thing they need is a hug because it has broken their hearts.
"The one service they gave their lives to; to dedicate themselves to the care of the less fortunate, is basically being eroded, it is being taken away from them," Mr Neeson said.
The porter added that he had worked for several years, mostly in A&E and had "never seen anything like it".
"We were struggling to find trolleys to put patients on, so as we could park them in corridors while they were waiting to be treated," he said.
Northern Ireland's Health Minister Edwin Poots was booed by protesting staff during a visit to the hospital on Thursday afternoon.
The health union Unison had been holding a protest at the RVH.
Earlier Mr Poots said problems had developed because staff had been dealing with a "massive number of admissions" over the past few days.
He said health staff had turned around what was "a very bad situation" within three hours.
He described the situation at the Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital as a "one-off" incident, where there had been an "unreasonable spike" in patients requiring treatment.
The chair of the health committee, Sinn Féin's Maeve McLaughlin, has called for a "full report into why a major incident was declared in the Royal Victoria Hospital Accident and Emergency Ward on what should have been a routine evening".
She added: "Since the closure of the A&E department in the City hospital, the Royal has been working under undue stress and Wednesday's nights episode was I believe the point where the system collapsed.
"It is obvious that the minister's strategy on A&E is in meltdown and lives are being put at risk and he must act now to reassure the public that this major incident response will not become the norm every week."
At about 20:00 GMT, trolleys from the emergency department were backed up into the x-ray area.
As a result, some A&E patients were placed in the recovery area and fracture clinic. The day procedure unit was also re-opened.
Staff at the hospital told the BBC that if a major trauma had been brought into the hospital on Wednesday night, there was neither space nor staff to cope with it.
Ambulances were diverted to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, on the outskirts of Belfast, for several hours during the evening and some hospital patients were transferred to other sites.
Colm Donaghy, the chief executive of the Belfast Health Trust, admitted that his staff came under pressure but said they had coped with the situation.
He said at least 10 very senior medical staff and more than 24 nurse were brought in to help.
Mr Donaghy added that had a major accident or similar incident happened on Wednesday night, the trust would have been able to handle it.
The health minister told the BBC that "the backlog was dealt with" and added that Northern Ireland has "a safer service now than we had two years ago, five years ago, ten years ago".
Mr Poots said: "What may be perceived to be normal wasn't actually normal because there was a build up of a series of very ill people. So for example, on Monday over 100 people were admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital. Again on Tuesday, there was 110 admitted to the RVH.
In November 2011, Belfast City Hospital's Accident and Emergency Unit closed its doors and the Royal became the main hub of emergency care in Belfast.