WE’VE been given a sneak preview of the Royal Victoria Hospital’s new state-of-the-art accident and emergency unit as it prepares to accept its first patient on Wednesday.

The official launch of the new unit is the first act in a phased opening of the new 12-storey critical care building that will eventually house the Falls Road hospital’s main emergency department as well as intensive care unit and maternity unit.

Work on the £152 million building began in 2008 and as of 8am on Wednesday all emergency patients arriving at the hospital will be treated at the new 9000 square foot site.

Ahead of the first day in operation Daily Belfast was given a tour of the new casualty unit and met with some of the doctors and nurses set to continue their life-saving work in their new home.

Bernie Owens, director of unscheduled and acute care at the Belfast Trust, said key to the new unit has been the contribution of doctors and nurses who work day in day out at the hospital.

“The clinical staff have had a lot of input into the new unit,” she said.

“This is a fantastic new state-of-the-art facility that will provide first class care to patients but also prove them with the privacy and dignity they need. Our clinical staff have been able to input ideas and work with us on it. We are taking this opportunity to introduce this new system of care and all our doctors and nurses have come together for this new way of working.”

As well as the layout change and improved facilities, the new casualty unit will see some protocol changes. Patients who arrive by ambulance will not be guaranteed first priority. Bernie said a common myth about the casualty unit was that if you arrived by ambulance you could bypass the queue.

“The patients who are treated first will be the patients who need the most urgent treatment regardless of how they arrived to hospital,” she said. “People sometimes think if they call an ambulance they can bypass the queue but this is not the case. This will take pressure off the ambulance service too we hope.”

The new casualty department will also have a clinical assessment unit. This unit will be for patients who aren’t an emergency case and who don’t require admission but nevertheless need some form of care. For example, a patient will stay in this new unit to be monitored or to await test results. All patients who go through this assessment unit will still have attended accident and emergency first. The hope is that the new unit will free up beds for emergency patients.

“We are really delighted to have this facility,” said Bernie. “It is a fantastic opportunity for much improved patient care.”

The unit will also have a section to deal with emergencies such as a chemical spill or infectious diseases. This will allow the patient to enter the unit through their own door and be washed down in a special shower room if necessary

The Belfast Trust has recently employed three new emergency consultants to work across their emergency departments. Staff at the hospital have been preparing for opening day for a number of months, taking part in emergency simulations and preparing for the smooth transition between the old unit and the new.

Accident and Emergency consultant Richard Wilson said on average staff at the Royal see around 300 patients per day through casualty every day of the year – approximately 100 of these arriving via ambulance.

He said staff are looking forward to the new and improved facilities, in particular the increased space the new casualty unit offers to ensure patient privacy.

“It offers much more space and dignity for patients to be treated in private,” he said,

“The new resuscitation area is much bigger with way more space for staff to work in. Staff are looking forward to getting into the new unit and starting working, it will be good for morale and obviously good for patient care.”