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The Southern Health and Social Care Trust have announced a shortage of permanent senior medical staff at Daisy Hill Hospital and while they plan to keep the emergency department open 24hrs, have stated that it remains vulnerable to any short notice withdrawal of present senior medical cover. They have also said that they may close the emergency department at night if staffing levels weren't sufficient.

In a statement a trust representative stated "The Trust remains committed to maintaining the Emergency Department, and thanks to the dedication and hard work of staff, the ED has been running 24 hours, 7 days a week, despite the challenges in maintaining a senior medical workforce.

Daisy Hill Hospital Emergency Department
Daisy Hill Hospital Emergency Department. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

"However, despite numerous recruitment efforts over the last two years, both nationally and internationally, there continues to be a shortage of permanent senior medical staff. 

"The current service is supported mainly by locum medical staff, and the continuing goodwill of clinical staff across the Trust. 

"The Trust has been working closely with the Health and Social Care Board,  the Department of Health and Trust colleagues across Northern Ireland to collectively explore potential opportunities to address the staffing challenges with the aim of trying to maintain 24/7 ED cover at Daisy Hill Hospital.

The representative continued "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. Therefore, if there is any risk to patient safety due to lack of senior medical cover at night, the ED will temporarily suspend the service until suitable medical cover becomes available. This would be a last resort, and the Trust is making every effort to avoid any reduction in hours in the short term.

"The Trust remains committed to ensure the public and key stakeholders are updated and engaged in relation to this very important local service."

Newry and Armagh MLA Conor Murphy has requested a meeting with the acting Chief Executive of the Southern Health & Social Care Trust in relation to the issue of understaffing at the Accident & Emergency Unit in Daisy Hill and the threat of suspension of the service.

Expressing his concerns the MLA stated "This issue of sufficient medical cover for Daisy Hills Emergency Department has been raised with the Trust  by myself , my colleagues and other political representatives, for a number of years now. 

"Michelle O'Neill, as Health Minister, visited Daisy Hill and the Emergency Department in recent weeks to talk to staff about the pressures they were facing.

"The Trust have employed enough senior staff in recent times to ensure that there is adequate cover in both Daisy Hill and Craigavon, it is their responsibility to deliver 24hr cover in the Emergency Departments, and the loss of services is not the answer".

The MLA concluded "I have this morning contacted the Chief Executive of the Trust requesting a meeting as a matter of priority to discuss the issue. 

"The suggested temporary suspension of access to services at Daisy Hill A &E Unit is already promoting real concerns that the Emergency Department could be further downgraded, increasing the chances that other services will be whittled away in turn. This must not be an option for consideration. The Trust must provide adequate cover for both Daisy Hill and Craigavon"

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