Childcare ‘failures’ At Royal Belfast Hospital

Health care for children in one of Belfast’s best known and well respected hospitals may not have been fit for use in recent times.

Even though Belfast Health Trust has now said that it was confident the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children provided the “highest standard of care” a report in the Irish News on Monday of a critical assessment from health experts who visited the hospital ten months ago has left considerable doubts.

It said the hospital was under-staffed, in need of redevelopment, cramped and falling below standards – and while the management had now acted on the recommendations made doubts remain in what in a public relations disaster.

Questions are now also being asked about how long the Minister, Michael McGimpsey knew about the damning report and what, if anything he did about it.

Jim Wells, who is the DUP Chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, has expressed his concern that the standard of healthcare at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children was hidden from public view for some 10 months.

The report only became public after it was leaked to a regional newspaper, he said: “If this report which highlights failings in the standard of care in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children was compiled 10 months ago why did it only come to light after it was leaked to a newspaper?

“People will rightly conclude that there is a culture of secrecy at the heart of the Department in which information that might raise awkward questions is suppressed.

“Mr McGimpsey has very important questions to answer about just why this report was withheld from the public for so long and what if anything, he knew about such concealment.

“People will expect to have a full disclosure of the information and a full detail of what action has been taken to address the shortcomings identified at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children,” he said.

According to yesterday’s Irish News, the hospital board and health trust invited independent health assessors to carry out an inspection in March 2010.

Whilst there was some praise in the report, it was highly critical and called for issues to be addressed urgently.

One of the authors of the review warned health chiefs: “I fear that there is a very real risk that children will come to harm if changes to staffing, facilities and processes are not made.”

Defending the standard of care, John Compton, the Health and Social Care Board’s Chief Executive said the language being used to describe the hospital was “not correct.”

“I don’t think there were serious failings that put the lives of children at risk,” he said.

“There were things that we needed to do and need to do better and we understand that and we are in the process with the Trust of improving that.”

He described the Children’s Hospital as “entirely safe.”

The news report coincided with Michael McGimpsey announcing that the £300,000 refurbishment at a ward on the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children had begun.

He said that the general children’s ward includes an area used mainly by adolescents with cystic fibrosis, which is outdated and not conducive to modern health care practice.

In a statement that predated the current controversy, the Minister said: “I welcome the news that the plans for refurbishing the ward are finalised and that work has now begun. £300,000 is a substantial investment that will bring real benefits for patients, staff and parents.”

When complete, there will be additional bed spaces, including more single en-suite rooms, more treatment rooms, including a pulmonary function room, a dedicated waiting area and improved accommodation for parents and staff.

Work on the refurbishment of the ward began on 19 Jan and is expected to take eight weeks.