Northern Ireland

Inside Fermanagh's state of the art hospital

The first new hospital to be built in Northern Ireland for more than a decade will open its doors next week.

The new South West Acute hospital on Wolf Lough just north of Enniskillen, epitomises everything that is modern in a 21st century health service.

In fact the only uninspiring thing about it is its name.

The £276m hospital will be the first facility of its kind in Northern Ireland to have single ensuite rooms for every patient.

There are no wards, just long corridors with 300 single side rooms. Each has its own flatscreen television, radio and clinical handwashing areas.

The new facility is about three times bigger than the old Erne hospital it replaces.

But does it have the staff to match?

There will be an extra 18 nursing posts but nurses will have to go into individual rooms to look after patients as opposed to being across wards.

The Royal College of Nursing recognises that treating patients in single rooms helps maximise infection control, but is concerned that there are too few nurses for the new layout.

Garret Martin from the RCN said: "Three new wards have opened with only 18 full-time equivalent staff, that creates a challenge in terms of nursing staff being too thin on the ground."

With less than a week before opening, three A&E consultant posts have still to be filled.

As well as the extra nurses, 10 extra porters and 43 cleaners are joining the original teams.

Public tours have given local people a taste of the new hospital and the reaction has been favourable.

Janine Chisolm is a second year nursing student from Omagh who hopes that she will get to work in the new hospital one day.

Image caption The new hospital features state-of-the-art technology

"I know from the whole point of cross-infection it'll be amazing but I do have my reservations (about single rooms). I think especially for the elderly people they do like company but there will be the facilities of the day room," she said.

A vacuum transfer system will allow for drugs, products and lab reports to be transferred around the hospital without being totally reliant on porters. It will also help speed up the discharge of patients who are often delayed awaiting prescriptions.

Windows in each room are almost floor length which staff believe will help promote therapeutic healing.

Brenda Whitley was involved with the community consultation for the new hospital five years ago.

"Having seen drawings on a table and I hadn't a clue what the drawings were at the time it's just exceeded all my expectations - it's beautiful," she said.

"It's not clinical looking. Everywhere is so bright and clean and all the light coming in, it's just wonderful, I'm delighted with it."

The four-storey hospital will house an A&E as well as a GP out of hours service.

The deputy chief executive of the Western Trust, Joe Lusby, said the hospital was ready for its first patients.

"Staff who we have had out here for familiarisation training over the last number of weeks really cannot wait to come out into this hospital because the Erne hospital, although it has served the community well, is well past its sell by date.

"So we are looking optimistically in terms of the future of this hospital," he said.

Ronan O'Hare, a consultant anaesthetist in charge of the move said it did pose a challenge.

"Most people in Northern Ireland move to a 400 metre-square house, we're moving to 65,000 metre-square house and we're taking our patients with us," he said .

"We will run two hospitals for a period of time, however the old Erne Hospital shuts at 8am and the new South West Acute opens at 8:01am."

Those who designed the complex are confident the layout is right.

The A&E entrance is away from the main entrance at the far right hand end of the complex.

Image caption All patients will have their own ensuite room

Running alongside is the imaging department. Intensive care and the high dependency unit are close to theatres and endoscopy suites.

For patients arriving by ambulance, there is a large resuscitation room just inside the doors that lead onto separate rooms for major and minor injuries.

The hospital has been funded through a Private Finance Initiative.

The Northern Ireland Health Group is the private partner in the initiative.

Another private company, Interserve, will provide estates maintenance and management services, energy management, grounds maintenance and window cleaning. They will also manage a help desk.

The women's and children's departments are housed together while the front of the building boasts an education department, outpatients recreation and large reception area.

The main corridor runs the length of the hospital providing access to all departments. Senior managers are optimistic the state of the art design will reflect the trust's approach to health care, smooth, approachable and user friendly.

Over £20m has been spent on equipment, including a £800,000 MRI scanner from Germany - the first of its kind in Northern Ireland. It boasts the most advanced capabilities in scanning, imaging and diagnostic technology.

The equipment means fewer people will have to travel to Belfast.

Other services include critical care services; paediatric services; day case surgery and a wide range of diagnostics including radiology and laboratory tests.

Margaret Browne, a local woman who took the tour, said: "It's very nice, very well laid out. It's like a very good hotel. I hope I never have to use it but you never know when."