Northern Ireland

Letter offers 'honest picture of plight of vulnerable'

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Image caption The letter says nurses cannot allow vulnerable patients to be treated in an "inequitable way"

This letter is significant as it has been penned and signed by some of the Belfast Health trust's most senior nurses.

It provides a clear and honest picture of what is happening to some extremely vulnerable men and women while in hospital.

While journalists can report what sources tell them, this information comes first hand.

It is from those who work at the very heart of the health care system.

The detail is shocking as it lifts the lid on how some patients are being treated; it also reveals the pressure under which some staff are having to work.

It is also shocking that staff feel they have to go to such lengths to be heard, to be noticed and, in their words, to try and make a difference.

In the letter they say they cannot stand by and allow vulnerable patients to be treated in an "inequitable way".

Significantly, they also remind management they are trying to meet elective targets and do the same work with 40 beds that used to be done with 80 beds.

And all the while there have been no additional nursing posts.

In January, the BBC revealed the number of scheduled orthopaedic operations that were cancelled due to the lack of hospital beds available at Musgrave Park Hospital. Within several months that number stood at over 100.

My sources now say that about 250 fewer orthopaedic procedures were performed between January and March this year compared to the same period last year.

It is also my understanding that consultants on both hospital sites are furious that patients are being transferred without their consent.

Lots of people are affected by this story.

Those patients who are being transferred by ambulance late at night and the nurses under pressure to find a bed for them.

Also, the men and women whose scheduled operations are being cancelled as there are not enough hospital beds in the system.

While part of the problem is fewer beds, the BBC understands that there are also fewer staff, including orthopaedic surgeons.

Nursing staff off on sick leave often are not replaced.

There are gaps in the system - all of this highlighted in last week's RQIA report into elderly people's care in hospitals.

While whistle-blowing is encouraged - actually doing so takes a great deal of courage.

Sadly these nurses must have felt that, in order to make their voices heard and to speak on behalf of those patients unable to speak up for themselves, such drastic action was necessary.

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