The Chief Executive of the South Eastern Trust, Hugh McCaughey, has said he is hopeful the new GP out of hours building, planned for the Lagan Valley Hospital, will be open by the end of the year.
The Trust revealed plans to move the current out of hours service to a new building beside the Emergency Department, which will provide one front door into the hospital with 24 hour a day access.
Mr McCaughey said he understood that people were upset over the recent reduction in hours at the Lagan Valley’s Accident and Emergency Department but gave assurances the Trust were doing all they could to secure the long term future of the Lisburn hospital.
“We very much regret that we have reached this position,” said Mr McCaughey.
“We have plans for the Lagan Valley and a number of different components for the future of the hospital which are progressing well and will bring stability to the site but the Emergency Department has always been difficult.
“We have been trying to find a model that will continue to admit people and will work more closely with primary care.
“It is unfortunate we were left with seventy shifts uncovered at around 600-700 hours,” he continued. “We were likely to get an evening or a Saturday or Sunday with no doctor and would have to have closed without warning.”
Mr McCaughey emphasised the fact that the difficulty in recruiting doctors is not unique to Lisburn or even to Northern Ireland, with a 50% vacancy rate across the UK.
He also said that despite attempts to recruit doctors through agencies and medical headhunters, it had become more difficult to fill the roles.
“We have always managed to get some locums and consultants picked up the slack but that was unsustainable.
Mr McCaughey went on to stress that the current GP out of hours surgery is available to patients and the doctors there are able to admit people directly onto the wards at the Lagan Valley.
The Chief Executive also insisted that when patients are treated at another hospital, they will be repatriated to the Lagan Valley Hospital if at all possible.
“We don’t see this as the death knell of the hospital, it is an unfortunate setback before we step forward again.
“Our first priority has to be that people who need admitted can get in and not have to go somewhere else. We would have wanted to avoid this position but I don’t believe it undermines the future of the Lagan Valley. Our vision remains the same.
“The Lagan Valley Hospital will still be a valuable, vibrant service,” he concluded.