HEALTH is a topic close to everyone’s heart and no more so than in Down District.
With the appointment of Edwin Poots MLA as Health Minister, a review is currently taking place in the health service and given that the economy is faultering, the health service may have to cut its cloth accordingly. There has been considerable specualtion about the future of many Accident and Emergency Units around Hospital Trust areas in Northern Ireland and the South Eastern HSC Trust has not been without its issues regarding the delivery of A&E services at the Downe Hospital.
However, the strong community-led campaign with political support for a 24-hour consultant led A&E at the Downe has been the centre of much discussion and debate. After a period of public discussion, the Trust’s proposals to set up an Out of Hours GP led service went ahead against some considerable public outcry.
Now, months later, there is a cooling of emotions as the reality of modern health provision rolls out at the new Downe Hospital. A new accord was struck at the last meeting of the Down District Council Health Committee between the local politicians and the South Eastern HSC Trust after the medical and management team made an in-depth presentation led by Trust Chief Executive Hugh McCaughey.
At the end of the meeting there was a clear breakthough as the Councillors were unanimous in their feelings that there had been improvements to services at the Downe and that the new OOH GP – led system at the A&E was working sustainably and effectively.
But there is often a mistake twixt cup and lip and an apparant confusion has arisen over the political position viz a viz a judicial review expected to be taken against the Trust.
In a statement form Down District Council, a spokesperson said, “Down District Council Chairman Dermot Curran welcomed the decision made recently by Mr Justice Treacy to grant leave for a judicial review of the health minister’s decision to restrict the casualty care at the Downe Hospital. The hearing has been listed for two days in December.
“This will afford an opportunity for scrutiny of the minister’s actions. The decision by John Duggan to take the judicial review has been a courageous one and is fully supported by the Council’s Health Committee. Council will continue to liaise with Mr Duggan through his legal team and awaits the outcome of the judicial review hearing with considerable interest. The proposed judicial review hearing will be discussed by the Council’s Health Committee and Hospital Task Force in October.”
Reacting to the statement from Down District Council, Eamonn McGrady, Chairman of the Down Community Health Committee said, “The Down Community Health Committee sought to have an emergency meeting to discuss this matter of proceeding with the judicial review now that it had been granted leave to be heard in court.
“We sought as health campaigners to have a meeting of the Council’s Health Task Force which we attend. There have been a number of significant changes taking place in the health service and our request to convene a meeting was not accepted. We see too that the monthly health committee meeting of the Council was also cancelled. Given that there are a number of pressing issues to be dealt with, mainly the issue of the judicial review, I would urge caution in progressing along these lines as it will appear divisive and may even damage relations between the Trust, the politicians and the community.
“We really needed to have a proper discussion about this. We look forward to our meeting between the Trust and the Down Community Health Community, but this difficult situaltion should have been attended to earlier as it will be a cost to the tax payers and rate payers if this case runs later in the year.”
Hugh McCaughey, South Eastern HSC Trust Chief Executive said, “The Trust welcomes the comments from Eamonn McGrady and would like to reinforce the importance of the Trust, local Council and Committee’s working together to enhance services for the local community. Indeed this appeared to be the overwhelming view of councillors at the recent meeting.
“The Trust recognises the importance of working in partnership with Down District Council and other agencies on a range of improving health and well-being projects and improving services. We as a Trust are always delighted to meet with local communities and continue to do so at every opportunity. We will be meeting with the Down Community Health Committee to encourage local people to support and use the services in the Downe.
“We continue to believe that the changes made at the Downe Emergency Department were made with the best interests of the hospital and the local population. The new model is proving to be extremely successful and is a sustainable model which will serve the population well into the future . When one sees the forced changes happening to other Emergency Departments, which was always our concern for the Downe, we believe the current model is the best solution for the people of Downpatrick and the surrounding area.”
Mr McCaughey added, “We are fully committed to expanding services within the Downe Hospital and the introduction of new services such as opthamology, Cardiac CT, Maxillo Facial surgery, Gastroenterology, Sexual Health, bowel screening and consultant-led respiratory clinics. The continuing challenge and fight in respect of the Downe only serves to undermine public confidence.”