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Downe A&E Hospital Campaign Rolls Out To Ballynahinch
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HEALTH campaigners were pleased at the turn out to the public meeting in Ballynahinch’s Baptist Church  on Wednesday 11 March as the call for the restoration of 24/7 A&E services at the Downe Hospital escalates.

The Ballynahinch Health Action Group organised the meeting for the Down Community Health Committee (DCHC) campaigning across the district. Committee Chairman Eamonn McGrady said: “With 20,000 signatures on a petition and 500 people attending public meetings, the depth of feeling about the loss of our  Downe A&E at weekends and evenings is clear and loud. This campaign is just beginning.”

The Down Community Health Committee is leading the campaign to restore 24/7 cover at the Down A&E.

The Down Community Health Committee is leading the campaign to restore 24/7 cover at the Down A&E.

Addressing the Ballynahinch audience, DCHC chairman Mr McGrady said: “From this meeting tonight we have reaffirmed our commitment to fight to retain our services at the Downe A&E and restore our 24/7 A&E care supported by middle grade doctors. We may not need the hospital every dsay in our lives, but when that day comes as it will for all of us possibly, we need to know that it is in place and can and does provide the necessary service required.

Jim Wells, South Down MLA, right, pictured with Eamonn McGrady, Chairman of the Down Community Health Committee.

Jim Wells, South Down MLA, right, pictured with Eamonn McGrady, Chairman of the Down Community Health Committee.

“The politicians have listened to your comments this evening and have taken them aboard. They are fully backing this campaign by the Down Community Health Committee. Tonight we have again sent out a powerful message to the powers that be from local people, unions, the churches, sporting bodies, the farming community,  and our politicians, and indeed the staff at the Downe hospital, that we are all fighting for the Downe Hospital and the restoration of our 24/7 A&E services. We will continue to unite to restore our services.”

A panel of speakers examined the key issues surrounding the closure of the Downe A&E at weekends and evenings expressing their steely determination to turn the difficult situation around.

But it was the speakers from the floor who presented their own personal testimonies that shone through at the meeting. There was no doubt about it, compared to previous campaigns, the pervasive anger and despair was obvious at the meeting. It was clear that the local governance and the health system had not met their expectations and there were many calls for resignations, sackings, and generally a cutting back of the power of the unelected health boards and officials many believed were wielding the ultimate decision-making power.

The Health and Social Services Board, The South Eastern HSC Trust, and indeed Minister Poots himself were in the firing line.  There is a growing clamour that there has been a failure of deliver a service equitably, and now the knives are being sharpened. Public pressure say the campaigners will be the tool to deliver on the full restoration of services that have been cut from the Downe Hosptal.

Comments From Speakers On The Floor

Speakers from the floor recounted their difficulties with care in A&E in Belfast and with the cutbacks in the hours at the Downe A&E.

Speakers from the floor recounted their difficulties with care in A&E in Belfast and with the cutbacks in the hours at the Downe A&E.

*  Pastor Rodney Stuart, Baptist Church, welcomed everyone to the Church and said his Church was behind the demand fro a full 24.7 A&E in Downpatrick saying: “We are speaking to all the local clergy and we fully back this campaign.”

*  Canon Warren Russell, Church of Ireland: “I’d like to pay tribute to the excellent staff at the Downe Hospital. We would all wish to see a restoration of our A&E services back to a full 24/7 basis. I spoke to a woman only recently who said if I need to go to A&E, make sure I am sent to the Downe Hospital such was her fears for the system. And I know of another person in our parish who spent ten hours waiting in the A&E in Belfast. The question now is: where do we go from here?”

*  Canon Gerry McCrory, St Patrick’s RC Church, Ballynahinch: “Speaking as someone who has had to be taken to A&E twice recently, once in the Downe Hospital, I must say that I received great care and understand the value of this when you are very ill and you have good people looking after you. I was at the RVH once and lay on a trolley from 4am still there at 11am next day. We are not in a different country. We should have the same facilities as the people in the other hospitals.”

*  Pat Ward: Drumaness.  “I have been involved in hospital campaigns for 28 years. We have got to ensure our new raft of politicians after these round of elections are fully tuned in to our campaign.”

*  Councillor Billy Walker: “If health officials have failed to deliver on our health services they should be struck off. I am also deeeply disappointed that after being part of a Council delegation to meet the Health and Social Care Board they have not responded to our requests.”

*  Councillor Terry Andrews: “It is time to give some of these officials their P45’s. We are now all in this campaign together and we need to fight it to the bitter end”.

*  Brian Ferguson: “I can say that the Downe saved a life of one of my relatives and that had the A&E not been there it was certainly going to be a bad outcome.”

Marion Ritchie, Unison rep speaking at the meeting.

Marion Ritchie, Unison rep speaking at the meeting.

*  R0y Graham: “I personally need regular treatment at A&E’s. With the increasing local population and the time it takes to travel to Belfast and the waiting times, there must be a bettter way of doing things. I went to my doctor recently who said I would be on a waiting list for 8-10 months for treatment but that it could be done privately in 6-8 weeks. Clearly this private service is supported by the tax payer. It is a waste of money. We need a hospital A&E within twenty minutes of our town. So we will fight for this.”

*  Marion Ritchie, UNISON: “The staff at the Downe Hospital are supporting you all one hundred percent. If you are asked to be treated in the private sector do not agree. Ask to be treated in the NHS. We demand equality. People need to have access to hospital servies at A&E within 15 minutes and the people of this area are clearly disadvantaged. Belfast has access to six A&E’s all in a short distance of each other.”

*  Philip Gregg, Ballynahinch RFC: “We have a hundred juniors playing at weekends and seven senior teams in action. We are the biggest rgby club in Northern Ireland and we believe we need the Downe A&E given the number of sport’s injuries there are acros this area.

A Ballynahinch Woman: “My husband suffers from Alzheimers and has been well supported by the Downe A&E. Of we have to go to A&E at night he is confused and anxious. There are a growing number of people on our community who suffer this condition. Their behaviour is very chalenging and travelling to a Belfast A&E and joining a long queue is not how we should be lookng after our people suffering from this. This certainly needs to be discussed with the health officials.”

Roy Neill: “”I was in a waiting room in the Royal Victoria Hospital recently and it was like a disaster zone. That is not where we should be sending sick and injured people from this area.”

Cecil Maxwell, a former chairman of the Down Community Health Committee, speaking the the meeting in Ballynahinch.

Cecil Maxwell, a former chairman of the Down Community Health Committee, speaking the the meeting in Ballynahinch.

Cecil Maxwell, former chairman of Down Community Health Committee: “I have been fighting for our hospital for fifty years it seems. We managed to get 30,000 people to lobby in Belfast for our new hospital, now we must campaign again to retain our services. The fight will go on to the streets if it has to. I am deeply sorry to see we are fighting another campaign. It is time to review our health system properly and sort this mess out.”

John Bonner, Ballynahinch Olympic FC: “Our soccer club fully suppoprts a full 24/7 A&E and the Downe Hospital. I just hope that there will be full radiology services at the new Minor Injuries Unit otherwise we will just be shipped off to Belfast.”

Mark Murnin, Ballynahinch Chamber of Commerce: “My father took a stroke last July and had to be rushed off to the Downe A&E. They managed to stabilise him. Thankfully today he is fit and well. It could have been a very different outcome if he had to be driven to a Belfast A&E with a critical delay in his treatment”.

Vince Kearney expressd his complete disatisfaction about Down A&E care after falling seriously ill at night when the  hospital was closed.

Vince Kearney expressed his complete dissatisfaction about Down A&E care after falling seriously ill at night when the hospital was closed.

Joanne Hill: “My son had a head injury and by the time I called and the time the ambulance got him to hospital it was four and a half hours. I understand there were no ambulances available. Something has to change.”

John Carson, farmer: “Today we do not have Eddie McGrady and Dick Shannon with us on our campaign. But we will be challenging these decisions by the Trust.  The farming community has seen many accidents over the years and it works 24 hours a day 24/7. And our A&E at the Downe should be 24/7. Quite simply, we need this service locally. This needs to be addressed to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister at Stormont.”

Vince Kearney: “I took very ill recently and had to go to the A&E at night. It was closed in Downpatrick. All the lights were out. My wife banged on windows and we found some help and I was stabilised. I was transferred to the Ulster Hospital. The shock of this experience was unreal… this is all just gross negligence of the health officials.”

Down Community Health Committee Campaign Backed By Speakers

The panel of  speakers at the Ballynahinch campaign meeting were all in favour of stepping up the campaign to its next level.

Anne Speed, UNISON negotiator, explained that we all need and use our public health service. She said: “It is now vitally important that this discussion about the way forward for the Downe Hospital is done as a public communication. We must make it clear what services we expect to receive and all decision need to be made clear. Services should not be determined by budgets but by need. The Transforming Your Care document is high in aspiration but low in planning or forward thinking.

“We now need things to start happening for the better. We certainly need a major review of our services. Your vision of asking for a 24/7 A&E is right and that is what you should be pursuing and that is what the Trust should be delivering.”

Down District Council Chairperson Maria McCarthy addressing the meeting.

Down District Council Chairperson Cllr Maria McCarthy addressing the meeting.

Down District Council Chairman Cllr Marie MacCarthy said: “Our health service is in crisis and the Downe Hospital is in crisis. I would like to pay tribute to the staff at the Downe Hospital for their dedication and commitment. We have put the case to the Health and Social Care Board, but it looks like there is a fundamental equality issue. We must be treated the same as people in other areas. Other Trusts have two acute hospitals but we have one and two halves. We will continue to put pressure on the Trust to re-instate the 24/7 cover we need and deserve.”

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie added: “It has been important this evening to hear the experiences of the people in Ballynahinch in relation to their hispital care. We must all have equal access to medical services. There may have been advances in technology and techniques, but we are critically short of the right doctors to deliver care. This has to be addresses as soon as possible. Our doctors are just not being deployed in the most effective way. We must talk to the HSCB and get them to examine this issue of contracts.”

Mike Nesbitt, UUP Leader, said: “Former health minister Michael McGimpsey warned that there was a crisis in the health service. Trust and confidence across the system has been eroded and we must look now at the effect these changes are having on individuals instead of looking at at people as statistics.

“There needs to be a full stretegic review of the health service. Our politicians need to come together and deal with this issue.”

Kieran McCarthy, Strangford Alliance MLA and member of the Stormont Health Committee, said: “There should have been proper planning in place to ensure that those completing their training at QUB Belfast take up places in our hospitals. Our current crisis stems from the closure of the City Hospital A&E. Minister Poots needs to recognise this. Many of the staff in our A&E’s are at breaking point.”

South Down MLA Chris Hazzard (Sinn Fein) quoted the late union leader Bob Crow saying we had to fight for our services. He added: “We now have a weekend Minor Injuries Unit at the Downe Hospital and this in no way replaces the full doctor led A&E that was in place 24/7.

“People in remote areas such as Kilcoo or Minertown are a long way away from A&E help and for an ambulance to arrive in an emergency to take them to A Belfast A&E. This is clearly an equality issue and has to be addressed. This campaign will escalate. We are only seeing the beginning. We will be marching on the street yet. Tell the press and media about your experiences in Emergency Departments. People need to know what is happening.”

Jim Wells, a DUP South Down MLA, and health minister in waiting, is the deputy chair of the Stormont Health Committee. He cited the example of a young recently qualified doctor who chose to work in Sydney in Australie as the work conditions and salary were much more attractive. “And there is a key issue too about an increasing number of doctors being women. This issue of effeminisation is significant as it means many will not be available to work in A&E’s. Also, working in a rural A&E is not an attrcative option for a middle grade doctor who needs to keep on top if their training and specialisms. These are all critical issues affecting out health service.

“Also, in 2005 the dictors were offered a 40% pay rise and contracts with the option to work where they wanted to. This latter point is at the heart of the problem. The doctors simply do not want to work weekends or evenings if they can help it. It has to be addressed. The Health Minister is committed to providing a sound health system. My first task as a junior minister fifteen years ago was to answer the question, does the Downe Hospital have a future? And today I am still being asked the same question.”

© Jim Masson 2014