All posts by Donna Lennon

Joint Statement from the Chief Executives of Northern Ireland’s Health Trusts

Actions to reduce the risk to patients waiting in unacceptable circumstances in ambulances and Emergency Departments

As members of this community as well as health and social care service leaders, we are deeply distressed at the ongoing situation in our hospitals.

Although strenuous efforts are being made to alleviate the pressures, we have a serious capacity deficit which means too many people are waiting too long for care. Much of the impact of this is falling on frail and ill older people and on the staff caring for them.

Pressures on services are expected to intensify further after Christmas and into the early months of 2023.

The case for long-term investment and reform to effectively build capacity has been well made. Right now, however, we have to use whatever levers are available to us to reduce delays and prioritise patient safety.

HSC Trusts have been working intensively with Departmental colleagues on our ongoing response. It has been agreed that the following initiatives will be introduced across the system:

* Patients will leave hospital no later than 48 hours after confirmation they are medically fit for discharge and where a suitable  placement which can meet their needs is available. There will be no cost to the patient or their family for this alternative interim placement  and it will not impact on their place on any waiting list for their longer term option. Trusts and Care Homes will work closely together to make best use of any and all available capacity. This will include new shared arrangements for pre-admission assessment for care homes seven days a week.

* A maximum limit of three hours for ambulance handover will apply at all EDs. There is agreement in principle to further reduce this limit over the coming months, subject to review. In the interim, for ambulances waiting up to three hours for handover, it is agreed to maintain the focus on immediate release of ambulance crews to respond to immediately life threatening Category 1 calls.

* Maximum use will be made of available space in wards and throughout hospitals, to improve patient flow out of overcrowded Emergency Departments. This will also include, where appropriate, use of chairs rather than beds for patients medically fit to leave hospitals.

These are not steps that we ever wanted or indeed imagined having to introduce. They are not designed as a long-term solution, but as actions to reduce the risk to patients waiting in unacceptable circumstances in ambulances and EDs.

What we absolutely require is a long-term funding settlement and a health and care system which properly reflects demographic trends and is capable of meeting rising levels of demand.

In the meantime, we cannot passively accept the status quo, with all that it means for patient care and safety.




Starting a conversation about loneliness

The Northern Health and Social Care Trust recently launched its ‘Starting a Conversation about Loneliness’ resource. This useful resource comprises of Prompt Cards and a Guide and aims to support Trust staff help identify loneliness with service users and carers and enable them to discuss ways to address it.

Even before Covid-19, where feelings of loneliness more than doubled, loneliness was fast becoming recognised as a growing public health concern.

People of all ages can experience loneliness and most of us will have felt lonely at some time in our lives.  Statistics within a 2020 report by the Campaign to End Loneliness and the Action Group on Loneliness Policy in Northern Ireland indicate that 1 in 3 people in Northern Ireland are ‘more often lonely’ while 1 in 20 people are chronically lonely.

Chronic or persistent loneliness can be as damaging to our physical and mental health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, obesity, heart disease and other health conditions including an increased risk of anxiety and depression. The effects of loneliness can also impact the numbers of people contacting their GP, which can in turn place pressure on public services.

Dr Petra Corr, Director of Mental Health, Learning Disability and Community Wellbeing, Northern Trust said, “I am delighted to launch this new loneliness resource. Within the Northern Trust we are committed to finding ways to support all those who may be feeling lonely or who are at risk of loneliness.  This new resource will be a valuable tool to help staff talk about loneliness with service users and carers and help them find ways to address it”.

Yvonne Carson Lead for Loneliness Northern Trust commented “Feeling lonely is a normal human emotion and whilst loneliness is not a pleasant experience this resource will help break the stigma of loneliness by giving staff the the confidence to talk about it more openly and discuss ways to improve social connections”.

Janine Gordon, Mental Capacity Act Governance Lead added, “We know the links between loneliness and poor mental and physical health are well established and without support mechanisms to cope, loneliness can become problematic. We involved staff from the onset and we have received a lot of support and positive feedback from staff who very much welcome this exciting new loneliness resource”.

Twenty Northern Trust Loneliness Champions were also recognised at the event and they were presented with a Certificate of Recognition, Loneliness Champion badge and pack by Dr Petra Corr, Director of Mental Health, Learning Disability and Community Wellbeing.


Mental Health Inpatient Service

In September 2020 the Department of Health approved the Trust’s outline business case for the provision of a new 134 single-bedroom Mental Health Inpatient Service (MHIS) on the Antrim Hospital site.

It is anticipated that the £80m capital investment will deliver a new state-of-the art facility that will address the failures in the existing facilities including:

  • Lack of single bedrooms
  • Limited access to secure outdoor space
  • Inadequate provision for family visiting and dining
  • Outdated activity rooms with inadequate space to support structured therapeutic interventions or provide quiet areas for patients requiring space
  • Inadequate accommodation for staff changing, rest breaks and dining.

Current Status

The project is currently progressing through the planning and design phase

Forward Programme

Item Completed by
Planning and Design October 2023
Construction tender award April 2024
Construction completed May 2026
Commissioning and operationalisation November 2026
Weekly Singing for Health Programmes

Weekly Singing for Health Programmes

This friendly singing programme aims to connect people through music to enhance their health and wellbeing and is facilitated by Music Director, Karen Diamond.

The programme is open to anyone aged 18+, including those with a long term medical condition. No singing experience necessary.

The programme is delivered via Zoom every Monday and Wednesday from 2.00 – 3.00pm.

For further information or to join the group please email:

Nicola Arbuckle, Health & Wellbeing Manager, NHSCT


New sensory garden and trail opens at Ecos Nature Park

Sensory garden and trail opens at ECOS Nature Park, Ballymena

The Northern Trust has worked in partnership with Mid and East Antrim Council over the last number of months to develop a sensory garden and nature trail at the Ecos Nature Park.

Jayne Colville, ASD Service Improvement Coordinator has said “We were delighted to have partnered with Mid and East Antrim in this innovative project, and are extremely pleased that the Northern Area Autism Reference group were instrumental in the garden design. This group are an independent group covering the same geographical area as the Northern Health and Social Care Trust. They actively participate in influencing, supporting and advising service providers in making sure that services are accessible for all autistic individuals, as well as ensuring they are appropriate and equitable.”

“We know there are huge benefits to our overall health and wellbeing by getting outside and spending time in nature, particularly in a garden setting. Having a dedicated space where families who have autistic children and young people can spend time together will undoubtedly support them. They will have the opportunity to take some time out in the quiet area, learn new practical skills and enjoy nature.

Mayor of Mid & East Antrim Council Cllr McCaughey said: “This garden has transformed a disused space and created a community garden for people with a wide range of needs to enjoy.

“As well as a communal growing space, it contains specific areas to meet a range of needs – quiet, sensory, active – and wild areas to enhance biodiversity.

“The garden includes a storytelling area, wooden fort, willow tunnel and hedge, raised beds for food growing, fruit trees, and a range of sensory planting.”

The garden has been built by The Conservation Volunteers and the Friends of Ecos volunteers.

Public awareness campaign needed to highlight coercive control

A research study on public understanding of coercive control has been released today (Thursday 10 June) by ARK – a joint initiative between Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University. The report entitled ‘Public Understanding of Coercive Control’ was co-authored by a research team from Ulster University, Northern Health and Social Care Trust and Queen’s University: Dr Susan Lagdon, Dr Julie-Ann Jordan, Dr Ciaran Shannon, Professor Mark Tully and Professor Cherie Armour.

Coercive control is a form of domestic abuse also known as emotional or psychological abuse; indirect abuse; or emotional torture. New legislation in Northern Ireland means that coercive control will be an offence, and brings Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK and Ireland.

The report used data from the 2020 Northern Ireland Life and Times (NILT) Survey.

In order to address the need for evidence-based knowledge to improve public awareness and victim response to coercive control, a module of questions was included in the 2020 NILT survey.

In the survey, respondents were asked to respond to questions based on a scenario based on an obvious form of coercive control, and a scenario based on a less obvious form of coercive control. Key findings include:

  • Over one third of respondents (36%) showed a lack of understanding of what coercive control means.
  • 18-24 year olds were less likely to recognise the term coercive control and know what it means.
  • For the obvious coercive control scenarios, the vast majority of respondents identified the behaviour as domestic abuse and a crime, and recognised the potential dangers such as physical violence and impact on the victims’ mental health. Most people agreed that these behaviours were criminal and should be reported to the police.
  • However, for the less obvious scenarios, respondents were less likely to see this behaviour as domestic abuse or a crime, and were also less likely to recognise potential dangers. This was particularly the case when the victim is male.

Commenting on the survey results, Lead Investigator and lecturer in Psychology at Ulster University Dr Susan Lagdon said “The survey findings indicate that a significant number of respondents are not aware of the term ‘coercive control’ and are therefore unlikely to recognise the signs of this type of abuse.  Our results show that male victims of coercive control are perceived as being at lower risk of harm, possibly due to gender biases in what behaviours are considered acceptable in relationships. Although women are at greater risk of victimisation, there needs to be appropriate awareness of risk amongst the wider public and access to support for all victims regardless of their personal demographics.”

Dr Julie-Ann Jordan, co-author of the report and Research Psychologist at the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, noted, “During 2020, there were 31,848 domestic abuse incidents recorded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).  It is important that the introduction of the coercive control as a criminal offence should be accompanied with a public awareness campaign focusing on what coercive control means and signposting victims and their friends and family to appropriate courses of action and sources of support.  Policy and advocacy services should also receive specialist training.”

Dr Paula Devine, co-director of ARK and from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast, added “These survey findings provide important baseline data of what the public think before the coercive control legislation comes into effect.

“Since 1998, NILT has recorded public attitudes across a range of important social policy issues.  It was even more important that it did so in 2020, and so we have a vital record of public opinion and behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a webinar at 11am on 10 June, Susan Lagdon (Ulster University) and Julie-Ann Jordan (Northern Health and Social Care Trust) will explore other aspects of the NILT data, specifically focusing on attitudes towards coercive and controlling behaviours within intimate relationships. Register in advance for the webinar at

‘Public Understanding of Coercive Control’ report

Joint Statement by the Chief Executives of Northern Ireland’s Six Health and Social Care Trusts

“In early December 2020 we issued what we described at the time as ‘a stark warning’ about huge pressures across the health and social care system in Northern Ireland.

“At that time we stressed that several of Northern Ireland’s acute hospitals were already operating beyond capacity. Within days, the pressure that the system was under was evident through the images shown across media outlets of multiple ambulances queuing outside Emergency Departments. We also highlighted that there was a very real risk that hospitals could be overwhelmed in the event of a further COVID-19 spike in January.

“Although different parts of the country are in different stages of the third COVID-19 surge, and individual hospitals are reflecting this, the situation is very serious with modelling projections indicating that in the third week in January we will be trying to contend with double the number of COVID positive patients compared to the current position today, when several hospitals already have record numbers of patients.

“This is not a simple matter of putting up more beds. We need the staff to care for the increased number of patients. Pre-existing staffing pressures and staff absence because of COVID, and other reasons, mean that those staff simply aren’t there.

“Already several Trusts are having to stand down all but the most urgent elective surgery, including some red-flag cancer surgery, to redeploy staff to meet the urgent and immediate needs of extremely ill patients, especially both COVID and non-COVID patients needing ICU care. These postponed operations will be rescheduled as soon as possible. We have established a regional approach to ensure that any available theatre capacity across Northern Ireland is allocated for those patients most in need of surgery, both during surge and as we come out of this surge. This may mean that patients will need to travel further for their surgery. Cancer services are seeking to maintain chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other non-surgical treatments and alternative treatments will be provided in the absence of surgical options.

“We know that we speak for all health and social care staff in assuring the public that we will do everything that we possibly can to deal with the situation that is unfolding. Our staff, although exhausted, will once more go above and beyond to do the best they can for as many people as possible, and we thank them for it. It will definitely not be easy and the care that we are able to provide will at times fall short of the high standards we normally deliver but we will do our very best. Desperately ill patients whether COVID or non-COVID will always be the ones being prioritised.

“No-one should be attending an Emergency Department at any time unless they need emergency care. It is likely that those who do attend will wait longer to be seen and for admission to hospital if that is what they require. Patients arriving by ambulance will also wait at times, sometimes for many hours before space is available in an already over-stretched ED. This has a direct impact on the ability of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to respond, in a timely manner, to life threatening emergencies in the community.

“Patients also need to leave hospital as soon as they are medically fit to leave. We will work tirelessly to ensure that this happens. That might mean accepting a placement where it is available and it might also mean families having to go the extra mile to provide temporary support for relatives. But we will need every bed that we have for those that are most in need.

“Pressure in one part of the health and social care system inevitably impacts on the other parts. For example, we might once again need families to be willing to fill unavoidable gaps in domiciliary care.

“Never has the phrase ‘all in it together’ been so pertinent and just so important. The COVID-19 vaccines provide the long-term hope and the current lockdown offers the opportunity to shorten the duration of the current surge. The public can play their part too by staying at home, practising social distancing and good hand hygiene and wearing face coverings.

“We thank you in advance for your assistance.”

Michael Bloomfield
Chief Executive
NIAS Trust     

Shane Devlin
Chief Executive
Southern Health and Social Care Trust

Cathy Jack
Chief Executive
Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Anne Kilgallen
Chief Executive
Western Health and Social Care Trust 

Seamus McGoran
Chief Executive
South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust   

Jennifer Welsh
Chief Executive
Northern Health and Social Care Trust            


Causeway Hospital Maternity Services

Causeway Inpatient Maternity Services to Resume

In response to the COVID-19 regional surge plan, the Trust temporarily relocated maternity inpatient services from Causeway Hospital to Antrim Area Hospital.

The Northern Trust Maternity Team are now in a position to resume these services in Causeway with effect from 7.30am on Monday 24 August 2020. All staff will be redeployed back to their substantive posts on the Causeway site and the service provision will cover any unscheduled attendances for pregnancy concerns, labour and birth (including caesarean sections) and postnatal stay alongside scheduled inpatient and outpatient care.

The current visiting guidelines will also be in place on the Causeway site.

Trust establishes new Bereavement Support Role for Maternity Service

Bereavement Support Midwife
Lesley-Ann Kennedy, Bereavement Support Midwife

The Northern Trust is delighted to announce the appointment of their first Bereavement Support Midwife.  Lesley-Ann Kennedy, who was previously a Midwifery Sister in Causeway Hospital, has taken up appointment this month.

Caroline Diamond, Head of Midwifery in the Northern Trust, explained the purpose of the role: “We have listened to the parents in our service and are now really pleased to have this role in place.  This service will provide extra support and guidance to ensure that in the midst of the most difficult situation women and their families will have that dedicated support available to enable the healthiest experience possible.

Our goal is to provide an outstanding bereavement service that holistically supports women, partners and their families through loss.  Lesley Ann is a very passionate and caring member of staff and I know she will work closely with all her Trust colleagues to ensure parents receive care which is clinically skilled, compassionate, consistent, kind and respectful.  ”

Based in Causeway Hospital but working across the Trust, Lesley-Ann will lead on the introduction of a dedicated strategy and training to ensure the entire Maternity Team are supported in implementing best practice and providing the highest quality care possible.

She will also work very closely with families to talk to them and find out their wishes in regard to their loss and associated experience.

Lesley Ann, Bereavement Support Midwife, explained her first real piece of work: “I feel very privileged to take up this new and extremely important role and look forward to making a real difference in families’ lives.  The first thing I want to do is to establish The Butterfly Group which will bring together relevant staff and parents who have experienced a loss so that we can start to plan and shape the bereavement service moving forward.  If anyone feels they would like to be involved I would be delighted to hear from them.”

It is anticipated that The Butterfly Group will meet six times a year initially and members can opt to attend as many meetings as they like.

In addition to the establishment of The Butterfly Group, the Bereavement Service plans to establish A Rainbow Clinic which will be specifically designed for women who have had a previous pregnancy loss and are now in a subsequent pregnancy.  A Garden on Remembrance will also be created in Antrim Area Hospital to provide a dedicated space for remembrance and reflection and bespoke bereavement suites will be developed in both Antrim Area and Causeway Hospitals.

Anyone who would like to join The Butterfly Group or would like more information should contact


To mark ‘Dying Matters’ Awareness week Dr. Frances Duffy, Consultant Clinical Psychologist from the Northern Health & Social Care Trust and Joanne Ballentine, a Northern Ireland Hospice Nurse Specialist for Dementia have collaborated on a special project during COVID-19. Together, they have developed the resource, ‘Supporting a person with Dementia following Bereavement during the COVID-19 pandemic’.

Explaining why this was an important piece of work for both organisations, Frances said, “This is an extremely difficult time for everyone, we have seen first-hand how bereavement during COVID-19 can be extremely isolating and traumatic. When a person with dementia is told that someone they love has died, what they understand and how they respond will depend on the stage of their dementia.  Some people will understand and experience grief, others may not fully understand and some may understand and become upset but forget after a short time.   There is the potential for increased distress both for the person with dementia and also those who love and support them who may also be grieving.  We hope this guidance will be helpful when sharing the news about the death and offering support.”

The comprehensive guidance provides advice such as, when and how to break the news of a death, and how to cope if the person doesn’t remember the death of a loved one.

Joanne added, “We hope this advice will help to reduce stress and distress for both the person with dementia and those who love and care for them during this very challenging time. With many of our dementia patients self-isolating it is important for us at Northern Ireland Hospice to continue to provide emotional and practical support. We have been lucky to be able to work closely with the Frances and the Northern Trust to provide that help.”

Supporting a person with Dementia following Bereavement during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on  or