THE Northern Ireland Hospice has relocated patients from its Somerton House facility to make way for a new rebuild.
Having cared for thousands of terminally ill patients in Somerton House, for the last 30 years the iconic Victorian building is old and in urgent need of redevelopment.
Patients were transferred from Somerton House and brought to a temporary facility at Whiteabbey Hospital with assistance from the Northern Ireland Ambulance service, staff and a team of volunteers.
Director of Nursing and Patient Services Heather Weir said: "Today marks the end of an era at Somerton House but is also the beginning of a new chapter.
"Our building at Somerton Road has been in operation for 30 years and now needs urgent redevelopment to ensure we meet new clinical standards. We have no other choice but to temporarily locate to new premises and raise the funds to build a new hospice on the existing site.
"The walls of this Victorian building and former school are damp and crumbling, there is only one bathroom and 18 patients shared one shower. Our vision is to build a state-of-the-art facility at a cost of -pound;11m."
Demand for hospice care is increasing, in its first year Northern Ireland Hospice cared for 98 patients. Today the charity cares for over 3,000 local people and their families each year, a fifth of the people who die in Northern Ireland.
Hospice inpatient services will continue in a separate unit located in the grounds of Whiteabbey Hospital while plans for the redevelopment of Somerton are set to commence in spring 2013. It is hoped that the project will be completed at the end of 2014.
Heather Weir continued: "Our vision will see the number of single rooms in our inpatient unit increased from five to 18 rooms. All patient rooms will be en-suite with showers, have access to garden areas and will be equipped with the latest handling equipment to allow the movement of patients safely. Every single patient room will have the space and facilities for extra beds, allowing a loved one to stay at the most difficult time."
Fundraising plans have been launched and a petition by the charity, Our Hour of Need is underway to encourage the Northern Ireland Executive to contribute -pound;2.5 million towards the redevelopment of a new hospice at Somerton Road. The public appeal hopes to secure -pound;3 million from the public through Buy a Brick and various other campaigns.
For further information on fundraising or the temporary move please visit www.nihospice.org.