The patients died at the Royal Victoria Hospital last year
As many as five patients died in Northern Ireland’s biggest hospital last year partly because they were not treated quickly enough, a senior doctor has said.
The patients died at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Dr Tony Stevens said.
Dr Stevens is the medical director of the Belfast Health Trust, which runs the hospital.
He said that a shortage of doctors and patient waiting times had been a significant factor in the deaths.
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show, Dr Stevens said: “Specifically, in terms of a contributory factor from people waiting longer than we would like them to be seen, we believe last year five patients in the Royal.”
When asked if that was five patients who had died or who had came to harm, he replied: “Came to harm, and some, I mean, some came to harm, some died.”
When he was asked how many of those had died, he replied “four or five”.
“These were very sick patients and they were very complex cases, so those patients may have succumbed or died anyway, this is a contributory factor,” he said.
“This is something we’re not happy about, that their care could have been better and their outcome might have been different, but I need to reassure the public, you cannot assume that five patients came into our hospital and, for want of waiting longer than we would want to, they died.”
‘Not enough doctors’
Dr Stevens said there was a shortage of doctors throughout Northern Ireland.
“A significant contributory factor for us is that in Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the UK, we’re struggling to both train and recruit the high calibre of doctors we require.
“We have very excellent doctors working in the Belfast Trust, very excellent doctors – but we need more of them.”
He added: “All these cases are serious adverse incidents. They are reported up to the Health and Social Care Board, they are all fully investigated and part of our policy is to inform the families, so it is my assumption that all the families are fully aware of this, but I am double checking that.”
Garrett Martin, deputy director of the Royal College of Nursing, said they had raised staff concerns with management some 18 months ago. He said the situation was very disturbing.
“We have many members who have approached us in very distressed states,” he said.
“They are saying that they do not have the required staffing levels to provide safe and dignified care, certainly it’s compromised.
“The physical environment where care is taking place is not adequate.”
Maeve Hully, chief executive of the Patient Client Council, said the whole health system had to be looked at.
“I think what’s currently happening is that we’re trying to fix bits, so whatever the problem is today we try and fix that,” she said.
“I think everybody needs to take a step back and say ‘let’s look at the totality of the problems’.”
‘Review findings disappointing’
On Monday, Health Minister Edwin Pootsbriefed the Northern Ireland Assembly on the initial findings of a review set up after a major incident was declared at the Royal over a patient backlog.
The review, by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), found that not enough medics are available at times in the Royal’s emergency department to properly treat patients.
Mr Poots said it was “disappointing”.
In June 2013, 105 patients who had been treated at the hospital in the previous eight weeks, were recalled after concerns were raised by medical staff about possible cases of misdiagnosis.
At the time, Dr Stevens said there were “no immediate concerns” about the patients’ well-being.
In March of 2012, an elderly patient apparently died unnoticed on a trolley in the hospital’s A&E.
After that incident, Dr Stevens said the quality of care given by doctors and nurses was not a concern.
The issue of waiting times is explored in a BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight programme, being shown on BBC One at 22:35 GMT on Tuesday.
During the programme, reporter Declan Lawn tells Health and Social Care Board chief executive John Compton that they have obtained figures that show that waiting times have contributed to two deaths in Northern Ireland.
In response, Mr Compton said: “Serious adverse incidents in my experience are a combination of events.
“They may have time aspects to them, they may have diagnostic aspects to them, they may have classification aspects to them, they may have judgement, decision making aspects to them. What we have is a very robust process that looks at serious adverse incidents.”
Dr Tony Stevens said there was a shortage of doctors throughout Northern Ireland
Dr Stevens’ comments were prompted by a BBC NI Spotlight programme that investigated the A&E department at the Royal for the last number of weeks.
It found there were two deaths in which waiting times were a contributing factor.
BBC NI health correspondent Marie-Louise Connolly said: “It’s a very powerful story and powerful information.
“It’s highly, highly unusual for a chief executive or someone in such a high position coming out and being able to give a figure of waiting times contributing to a death.
“It is very significant that in the space of maybe 12 to 18 months that five people that we know of in one hospital died and one of the contributing factors was the length of time they had to wait to see a doctor.”
via BBC News – Royal Victoria Hospital: Delays ‘contributed to five deaths’.