BELFAST Health Trust’s board unanimously agreed to shut the City Hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department from November 1 at a public meeting yesterday (September 7).
The unit was expected to close this month, but two consultants are on loan from the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, leading to an extension of the deadline.
The chief executive of the board, Colm Donaghy, stated during the meeting that the proposal to close the A&E temporarily was ‘safety led’ and not ‘cuts led’.
He said the safety of patients was jeopardised by a lack of staff in the department and that a decision on the permanence of the closure would probably not be known until this time next year.
He said that if staff could be found in the interim period that the decision on the closure would be reversed.
The meeting became vocal at times, with shouts from the audience. At one stage the chairman, Pat McCartan, said he would take the meeting somewhere else if the disruption continued.
A call from the audience of “Why haven’t you been looking for more staff in the last six months?” was answered with a declaration that the Trust had been scouring eastern Europe for staff, to which another shout of “Why not try Cuba?” came.
One of the board began to answer, by saying that that avenue was being looked at but that because Cubans weren’t from Europe it made things difficult.
Mr McCartan quietly asked the member not to enter into discussion with the audience.
A doctor on the board told those in the meeting about his experience of the situation at the City Hospital.
He said: “As a doctor I see this from the sharp end. As it stands it is not sustainable. We are rendered much less effective by being spread across three sites. It perpetuates the notion of the nine to five consultant which is untrue. We are spread much too thin.”
“From a managerial view you just wouldn’t design things the way they stand.”
Campaigners against the closure have feared that the extra distance to the Royal Victoria or Mater Hospital A&Es could cost lives but the doctor said the notion of a distance of a mile being of clinical importance was “utter nonsense”.
He said that if one was to die because of having to travel an extra mile then there would have been nothing a doctor could do for them anyway. This was met with hisses, boos and a comment of “We’re just dead then” from members of the audience but he asked that people “rethink” their idea of a mile to a hospital in an urban area.
Tom Hartley, Sinn Fein councillor, asked the board to clarify that no lives would be lost due to the proposal and said the issue clearly needed to be addressed.
Patrick Mulholland, from the Stop the Cuts campaign, said the proposal was driven by the idea of cutting public sector jobs to fund bankers and CEOs, he said it was “absolutely shocking” that no public consultation had taken place about this proposal.
He handed a petition to the chair of the meeting. and said the board should take the petition as a form of public consultation.
SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt said yesterday that he has secured an Assembly adjournment debate on the proposed closure of the A & E.