No immediate return of emergency care at Downe

No immediate return of emergency care at Downe

31 March 2021

THE Downe Hospital’s consultant-led urgent care centre is receiving around 1,000 calls per month, it has been revealed.

The news was confirmed during a meeting between senior officials from the South Eastern Trust and Newry, Mourne and Down councillors last week.

Trust officials say that while the Downpatrick hospital will continue to play a leading role in the delivery of key services for patients across the district and beyond, there will be no immediate return of emergency services which were closed almost one year ago as part of sweeping changes in preparation for the expected surge in coronavirus cases.

It had been widely expected that A&E services would have resumed at the Downe last October but the continuing severity of the coronavirus pandemic put paid to this, with health chiefs instead introducing a consultant-led urgent care centre which requires people to contact staff ahead of their arrival.

Health chiefs say the centre has been a success with the new model of care ensuring that patients are not inappropriately attending the hospital, but going straight to the place where they need their care. 

In addition, they insist that the urgent care centre is meeting the needs of those patients who should be coming to the hospital.

During last week’s online meeting consultant Andrew Dobbin — who works at the hospital and is the South Eastern Trust’s clinical director for emergency care —  said the urgent care centre is performing a high percentage of work previously done by the Downe’s emergency department closed temporarily in March last year.

Mr Dobbin said when the A&E was open, around three patients were transferred daily to the Ulster Hospital. 

Under the urgent care model, which requires people to ring ahead, just under three patients are being advised to go to a more appropriate hospital site for the treatment that they require.

Mr Dobbin said clinicians liaised with local GPs at the start of the new urgent care centre service in a bid to utilise the services they provide.

He said the Downpatrick emergency department was very much a “primary care heavy unit” and that since the new urgent care centre opened, admissions have reduced by 10%, with GPs taking back some of the work that was historically have been referred to A&E.

Mr Dobbin said the urgent care centre is seeing 55% of the patients it did when it opened last October, explaining that the pandemic has had an impact, shrinking attendance across all hospital departments by around 30%, with a 40% reduction in minor injury unit attendances.

“Our service at the Downe is set up with consultants most days,” he continued, confirming that an 

additional member of clinical staff was appointed last December and that 99% of the time, there is a 

consultant in place, along with a senior specialty doctor or associated specialist.

“We are getting about 1,000 calls per month and are seeing between 75 and 80% of patients with appointments the same day,” Mr Dobbin revealed.

He said 72% of patients are seen within 15 minutes of arrival and 92% seen within 30 minutes, with 75% of people leaving within an hour having their problems dealt with, with the new service significantly reducing the number of transfers required by ambulance to other hospitals by around 80%.

Mr Dobbin said the urgent care centre is also able to provide a “significant suite of services” which includes over 500 x-rays a month, 30 CT scans, 130 take home medicines, with four or five MRI scans organised via the Ulster Hospital site and 40 ultrasound scans. 

He said the urgent care service is doing a high percentage of what was always done at the Downe and been able to reduce some of the workload and the risk by getting the right patient to the right place at the right time.