The Northern Health and Social Care Trust (NHSCT) has warned of the potential merging of the “unsustainable” elective and emergency surgery departments at Antrim and Causeway Hospitals.
It follows the Trust’s decision to move all hospital births from Causeway Hospital to Antrim Area Hospital, which came into effect last summer.
At a Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council meeting on Tuesday, February 6, Chief Executive Jennifer Welsh confirmed that the Trust was reviewing “how our surgical services are configured” for the two sites.
A review by the Department of Health (DoH) found that neither the Antrim or Causeway sites “currently meet the standards” for elective and emergency general surgery, Mrs Welsh said.
She added: “As well as issues raised by the DoH’s review, our clinical teams in Causeway and Antrim came to us with some significant concerns about the current model’s sustainability.”
“The emergency surgery workload in Antrim is about double that of Causeway. This puts a lot of pressure on the Antrim team, leading to difficult working conditions.
“We are also concerned that, while we have a stable team of consultants in Causeway now, we will find it difficult to replace them as they move on or retire.
“We are the only Trust in Northern Ireland with an emergency service split across two sites, and we are not confident that we are able to attract surgeons if they can work in a single-site model elsewhere.
“In the Daisy Hill and the South West Acute Hospitals, unsustainable services were left for too long until they collapsed.
“That’s not in anyone’s interests, so it’s important to act now in a planned way before we are overtaken by events.”
Mrs Welsh said the Trust was currently “working through options” to deliver in a more sustainable way by “making use of both sites and future-proofing services”.
She confirmed that some options involve centralising emergency services to a single site, but stressed that a decision has not been taken.
“We are engaging with staff, and will engage with other stakeholders,” Mrs Welsh said. “And if a service reconfiguration is required we will hold a full public consultation in late spring.”