Planning for winter pressures

Hospitals and community services across Northern Ireland continue to experience pressures due to high demand. We have 526 adult beds in total across both Antrim Area Hospital and Causeway Hospital, which serve a population of around 450,000, including the highest number of older people in the region. These frail elderly people, who often have complex medical needs, are more likely to require admission after coming to the EDs. With colder weather forecast, our experience shows that ED attendances are likely to increase due to falls and respiratory illnesses. 

Plans are being implemented and are ongoing at both acute hospitals to reduce pressures, improve the patient journey from arrival to discharge and to support our services. Our staff, although very busy, are always in control of the situation and continue to provide exceptional care to our patients.

What you can do

The public can play their part in supporting us by always choosing the most appropriate service depending on the ailment. If you feel that your condition needs urgent attention, please always come to ED. If you are unsure, your GP surgery or the GP out of hours service is always available for advice. Remember, a pharmacist can also give advice and treat minor ailments. You could also use the NI Direct Symptom Checker www.nidirect.gov.uk/services/health-conditions-a-z.

Pressure on services can be reduced by taking precautions and planning for your health needs over winter. This includes having supplies in the house such as pain relief, plasters and antiseptic cream, ordering repeat prescriptions in advance so you don’t run out and getting the flu vaccine if eligible. More information on Stay Well is available at www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/stay-well.  

During bad weather, please help protect your health by keeping warm, having extra supplies of food and water available for emergencies and taking measures to prevent falls. If you have an elderly or isolated family member or friend, check in on them regularly to make sure they have everything they need.

Ongoing work taking place

Site coordination systems have been implemented at both Antrim Area Hospital and Causeway Hospital whereby a nominated person is in charge every day to oversee any issues across the hospital, to smooth the patient journey through hospital services and help address any delays for those who are waiting to be safely discharged. 

Work is well underway on a new 24 bed medical ward at Antrim Area Hospital that is due to open in May 2019. We have recently extended and improved the Direct Assessment Unit (DAU) at Antrim Area Hospital with a £1.5 million investment, meaning that more assessments and treatments can now be offered, that would have otherwise have resulted in an admission to hospital. The DAU is open Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays) and referrals can be made from the ED arrivals, through GPs or the ambulance service. A DAU has recently been introduced at Causeway Hospital that can provide assessment and treatment for frail elderly patients who otherwise would have required a hospital admission. The DAUs help us to offer patients with non urgent conditions alternatives for assessment/treatment and improve their overall experience.

A Minor Injuries Unit (MIU) is available at Mid Ulster Hospital and is open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays. Staff can assess, diagnose and treat people aged over five years with a number of minor conditions, such as possible broken bones in the lower part of the limbs, minor facial injuries like bruising or broken noses and foreign bodies in the eyes/ears/nose. If someone is unsure if they should attend this MIU, please contact staff for advice on 028 7936 6720.

A large amount of work has also taken place across the community to help people, particularly those who are elderly and frail, to avoid having to come to hospital for treatment and possible admission. This includes Our Nursing Home REaCH Team that works with residents, their families and staff in 57 homes, helping to make sure care is centred on the needs of each individual resident and offered within the comfort of the care home, if suitable. These measures help keep acute hospital beds available for those who need them.

Page last updated:28 January 2019