Daisy Hill: Staff shortage threatens hospital's emergency department
Emergency services at a major hospital in County Down may have to be temporarily suspended due to a shortage of permanent senior medical staff.
BBC News NI understands that the emergency department at Daisy Hill Hospital is being run by locum doctors.
The Southern Health and Social Care Trust has confirmed that the service is vulnerable.
Staff and the public are being briefed by management at the hospital about the potential impact.
The trust said it is facing staffing challenges that are beyond its control.
In a worrying move, the trust is warning that it may have to temporarily suspend the emergency service at the Newry hospital due to the short notice withdrawal of senior medical staff.
"The service currently remains vulnerable to the short notice withdrawal of senior medical cover, particularly during the summer months when there is a less secure supply of locum consultants," a spokesperson said.
"Therefore, if there is any risk to patient safety due to lack of senior medical cover, the emergency department will temporarily suspend the service until suitable medical cover becomes available."
Not adequately resourced
The trust says suspension will be a last resort, adding that it is working closely with the Health and Social Care Board and the Department of Health.
While that may be the case, what is happening at Daisy Hill Hospital is similar to what happened at the Belfast City Hospital several years ago.
It, too, could not safely staff its emergency department, which eventually led to its closure.
The BBC understands that the service has been vulnerable for some time.
However, there is a perception among some staff and the public that the hospital has not been resourced adequately for some time in a move to run services down.
Staffing the emergency department and meeting European safety regulations has been a challenge for several of Northern Ireland's health trusts, but particularly the Southern Health and Social Care Trust.
What has happened is partly down to the fact that the reform of healthcare services in Northern Ireland has yet to happen.
Under the Transforming Your Care health review and last year's Bengoa report, reform was suggested not as a choice but as a necessity.
Last year, more than 53,000 people attended Daisy Hill Hospital's emergency department.
If services are suspended, patients will have to travel to Craigavon Hospital instead.
The Southern Health and Social Care Trust says it remains committed to ensuring the public and key stakeholders are updated and engaged in relation to this important issue.