Political Furore Follows Trust Decision To Cut Downe A&E Hours
FOLLOWING the anouncement by the South Eastern HSC Trust that the hours at the Downe Hospital A&E may be cut, they have now indicated that the proposal is to change the hours to 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday with a total closure on Saturday and Sunday. An out-of-hours service will be available. These new arrangements are expected to begin on 3 January 2014.
A Special Meeting of Down District Council has been called for Monday evening 23 December at the Downshire Civic Centre to discuss the proposed reductions to A&E hours and representatives of the South Eastern HSC Trust will be in attendance.
In a statement released from the South Eastern Trust late on Friday 20 December, a spokesperson said: “The Trust is experiencing a critical shortage of medical staff in both the Downe and Lagan Valley Emergency Departments and it is reviewing a range of options for continued provision of Emergency Care services with the objective of maintaining the Emergency Departments at both sites.
“It is anticipated that a decision will be reached in the next few days. This is a regrettable set of circumstances and the Trust is pursuing every opportunity to minimise service disruption to our patients at this time.”
At a heated meeting in Down District Council on Wednesday evening 18 December, councillors in attendance agreed, following a proposal by Councillor Willie Walker, to contact the Health Minister and and the South Eastern HSC Trust seeking an immediate meeting. The highly charged council meeting heard councillors condemn the Trust for making the anouncment with first consulting with the public, staff council and local stakeholders.
Councilor Billy Walker proposed that Council should immediately seek a meeting with Minister Edwin Poots and the Health Trust. Speaking afte the meeting, Cllr Walker said: “We need to do what we can to stall this decision by the Trust. It effects many people in the Strangford constituency too as well as Down District.
“I did phone the Health Minister actually during our meeting but he was unavailable, but he did return the call later in the evening. He did indicate to me that he was not one bit happy about the proposal to cut the Downe A&E hours. The DUP further led a elgation to met him last Friday to further explain our deep concerns. We have all got to back the Down Community Health Committee in this campaign.
“I was also disappointed at only being allowed a short time to speak at this very important health meeting on Monday evening. Other councillors too were vexed at not being given enough time to get their message across. However, we will all get a chance to address the Trust at the coming meeting on Monday.”
Down Community Health Committee Chairman Speaks At Health Meeting
Eamonn McGrady, Chairman of the Down Community Health Committee, speaking during the discussion on the Downe A&E crisis, said: “What the Downe really is is an enlarged local hospital. That’s what we have. It has developed as a hybrid model to reflect local needs. It was to work to principles of sustainability. Now the Trust are saying it is not ‘sustainable’, but the ball is still rolling in all of this at the moment.
“It is an issue of resources’ allocation. Whether we are treated in the Downe or somehwere else, basically the same doctors treat us. The significant issue about losing hours of service or indeed losing the A&E service altogether is that it will have a fairly immediate knock-on effect to other sections in the hospital.
“It is clear this decision by the Trust has shocked the community and the politicians, and hospital staff. The Trust seems to have no regard to elected representatives.
“We have full sympathy too for the people of Lagan Valley, but they are just minutes away from a selection of hospitals in their area in Belfast, Craigavon and Antrim. What we need to do is create a cross-community, cross-party consensus and move forward and deal with this situation.
“Our infrastructure in this district is very different from other areas and this has to be taken into consideration. It is very difficult to get services open again once they are closed. We must prevent this from happening. Councillors need to exert what influence they can from within their own parties too to help with this problem. This may well end up with the Executive at Stormont. We have got to put an end to the salami slicing of our health services in the Downe Hospital,” added McMcGrady.
What the Councillors Said
Councillor Dermot Curran: “The Downe and the Lagan Valley A&E’s are in a similar position. I first learned of this crisis in the media. There are sihgnificant problems facing the people of Down District if the A&E at the Downe Hospital cuts its hours or closes. Already we see reports of overcrowded AEE deprtments in the Belfast hospitals. I would prefer to stay at home than endure going to an A&E in these circmstances. As public representatives we must do what we can to keep the Downe A&E open.”
Councillor Liam Johnston: “Once again Down District bares the brunt. The effect of ths cutback will affect the next generation too. It is time for the discrimination against Down District to end. I can honestly say that when I took in some time ago I would not have made it to another hopsital. The Downe A&E saved my life.
“So, what action did the Trust and the Department take to prevent this cris from emerging? What real steps were made in terms of recruitment? Is the 24-hour accident and emergency at the Downe Hospital now going to join the the lost of cardiac units, consultant led maternity and stroke unit?
“Our health is at risk because of unelected quangos. We are just being treated as second class citizens.”
Councillor Willie Clarke: “There is a clear lack of consutation in this decision by the Trust. It is just a debacle. This will have a knock on effect to issue such as ambulance cover – and we do have a problem of road infrastruture in our area – there is not a yard of decent dual carraigeway. From some parts it will be 35 miles to the A&E in Belfast. There are a lot of questions needing answered. We will have no option but to addres this at Stormont. This decision celarly needs to undergo rural prooofing. We certainly need to look at why doctors are not coming to work at the Downe Hospital. There are clear planning issues here not being addressed.”
Councillor Patrick Clarke: “I am appalled at hearing te news that the Downe A&E may face cuts to its hours of opening. Again there has been no consultation on this. I would like to hear what the Health Minister has to say about it. After the A&E, what will be the next casualty? The hospital itself? I have to question the rational of this decision. It is very worrying given there was no consultation. We have to come up with a plan of action to deal with this crisis”
Councillor Terry Andrews: “The Downe Hospital is an easy target. We need to relay our stern message now to the politicians at Stormont who can influence the Trust. There is a clear lack of democracy on all of this decision by the Trust. We must stand furmly behind the Down Community Health Committee on this campaign.”
Councillor Carmel O’Boyle: “There may be a shortage of doctors but this is a cowardly way to release news to the people of oir district. IF we take this at face value it is a case of gross mismanagement by overpaid bureaucrats who need to before the Minister. If necessary we will once again protest in the streets over this issue. Speaking for my constituancy, I know the road infrastruct around Newcastle is poor and we are clearly disadvantaged there. If there has been such a critical shortage of staff this has not been fully communicated to the community. “
Councillor Dessie Patterson: “The Ttust must come clear to this Chamber on the issue of their proposal on the A&E at the Downe Hospital. Downpatrick is 20 miles from Belfast and at least 45 minutes to the Ulster Hospital.”
Councillor Garth Craig: “We too are tired of being treated as second class citizens and and should not have acute services cut. There is no reason for us to be treated less that the people in the greater Belfast district. We need strong action on this issue.”
Councillor Robert Burgess: “We need to drill down into the budget facts and see exactly what is happening in the Trust regarding the Downe Hospital.”
Hazzard Deeply Concerned
In attendance at the health committee meeting, South Down MLA Chris Hazzard expressed his full support for a cross-party response to the Trust’s decision to cut the hours at the Downe A&E department. He said: “I have already sent a letter off to the Chairman of the Health Committee at the Assembly. The timing of the Trust’s anouncement has left no time to organise responses to it given the Christmas holidays are now starting.
“The Stormont Committe will not start again until the 14 January 2014. We must put a plan together to address this very serious matter. I am glad the Trust are now meeting with Down District Council on the 23 December, but again, the timing does not add to finding a solution to this issue quickly.
“If the problem is simply about money then that needs to be addressed, We need a safe and secure plan for the Downe Hospital to be put in place. We do not want a scenario of death by a thousand cuts. I am prepared to do what is necessary even ovet the holidays to resolve this crisis. We have an excellent hospital in Downpatrick with a range of services and this must not be undermined.”
Rogers Slams Trust Proposals To Cut Sowne A&E Hours
South Down SDLP MLA Seán Rogers has spoken out as the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust propose to reduce services in the Downe from the 3 January.
Mr Rogers said: “I understand that the Trust has made a submission to the Department for Health that the A&E unit in the Downe be closed from 8pm to 8am each week night and total closure at the weekend.
“Given the severity of the proposal, I am completely taken aback with the lack of consultation and furthermore alarmed that the Trust intends to implement this major change within two weeks… after the Festive period.
“I have already made strong representations to the Health Minster Poots spelling out that this decision will result in deaths in South Down.
“We are sitting with a state-of-the-art hospital that is being stripped of its vital services. South Down is a predominantly rural constituency with the Trust now proposing that some residents drive in excess of 30miles – which in some cases takes at least an hour for an accident or emergency. This is totally unacceptable. Comparisons are being made between A&E services at the Downe and Lagan Valley but there is clearly no comparison given that Lagan Valley is a mere 8 motorway miles from the Royal Victoria Hospital. The Minister must take into consideration our local rural infrastructure,” added Mr Rogers.