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Health Minister must share his plans for winter pressures and staff shortages after emergency department news, says Eastwood

The Health Minister must urgently share his plans to deal with winter pressures and staff shortages across the heath service, Alliance Lagan Valley representative Councillor Sorcha Eastwood has said.

Councillor Eastwood was speaking after the South Eastern Trust announced the emergency department at Lagan Valley Hospital would change to a ‘phone first’ service from Monday, meaning anyone wishing to attend its emergency department would be encouraged to call ahead if their condition is not life-threatening.

The Lagan Valley representative met with the Trust today and said it laid bare the “fragility” of the health service here, due to Trusts struggling to recruit staff, particularly doctors and nurses.

“I have previously expressed concerns around the implementation of a phone first system and had been calling for consultation with staff, unions and the community,” said Councillor Eastwood.

“Although there was a commitment given on that today, which is welcome, questions remain about the capacity of the health service itself, given staff shortages as we approach what will likely be the most challenging winter on record. As they work incredibly hard, staff are burnt out after two years of COVID. There is also a shortage of new staff coming through across all disciplines and bands.

“We now need to hear the Health Minister’s plans to deal with these challenges, given we all know what it coming down the line. Rehearsing the already well known issues facing our exhausted health service staff will not deliver for them or patients. What we need urgently are plans and actions to ensure services do not collapse in the near future.”