Immigration meeting `part of strategy' to tackle A&E crisis
by JULIE-ANN SPENCE
LAGAN Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson has held preliminary discussions with the Home Office over new immigration rules which have prevented local hospitals from recruiting junior doctors from outside the EU.
The rules have been blamed, in part, for the current lack of junior doctors in Northern Ireland, most notably at the Lagan Valley Hospital where four junior doctor posts have been left vacant, resulting in the reduction of hours at the Lisburn hospital's Accident and Emergency Department.
Following the reduction in opening hours at the local A&E Mr Donaldson wrote to the Home Office expressing concern about the restrictions. He received a response from the immigration Minister Damian Green, who arranged for initial discussions to be held. Mr Donaldson is now due to meet with officials to progress the matter further.
In his response to Mr Donaldson, Mr Green said: "I am deeply concerned to hear about the difficulties being experienced with recruitment in Northern Ireland, which you believe is an adverse effect of changes to the 1mmigration Rules."
Mr Donaldson said that whilst he understood the need for proper assessment of professional staff entering the UK, the situation must be addressed in order to tackle the ongoing recruitment crisis in local hospitals.
"I raised this matter with the Home Office and following this there has been some initial contact withe the Home Office about the immigration arrangements for junior doctors entering the UK and they have offered us the opportunity of a meeting which will include officials from the Department of Health to discuss the experience of junior doctors overseas who wish to work in the health service in Northern Ireland."
Mr Donaldson continued: "There is a significant delay in recruiting junior doctors and it is important that these delays are addressed because it inhibits the capacity of the health service to supplement their junior doctors numbers with qualified staff from overseas.
"The result has been that a number of accident and emergency departments have been effected, including Lagan Valley.
"I understand the need to properly vet professional staff entering the UK, including junior doctors," he added, "and this is only part of the strategy to tackle this problem."
THE Mayor of Lisburn, Councillor Brian Heading, has said there is a need for all relevant bodies to sit down together to find a way forward for the Lagan Valley Hospital. "There is a need and urgency to get everyone in the same room to discuss the matter," said Mr Heading.
"The problem is that each organisation is saying that the fault doesn't lie with them, that it lies with someone else. "Myself and the Chairman of the Council's Corporate Services Committee, Councillor Stephen Martin, are trying to organise that meeting so that everyone can have an input into finding a solution," he concluded. Councillor Martin added: "Lisburn is Northern Ireland's second largest city and growing constantly. We feel that a fully functioning A&E unit is a prerequisite for Lisburn. Hospitals are over-stretched and over-burdened. This is well known. The A&E unit in Lagan Valley is currently open on reduced hours. We do not want to see it close and add more demand to over-stretched hospitals in Craigavon and Belfast.
"Significant change with accident and emergency units bas already taken place, most recently with the closure of the City Hospital's A&E unit. The Trust states this is a temporary closure. There is a real danger that what is a temporary solution now becomes a permanent solution in the future," be added.