Fears over accident and emergency provision for south Belfast residents are mounting following the Health Minister’s proposal to close Belfast City Hospital’s A&E department.
Health Minister Edwin Poots has made the proposal on the grounds that the city has too many A&E departments and that this would bring it “in line with other UK cities”.
SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy has slammed the proposal which would take effect in October and would see residents having to attend the Royal Victoria Hospital in emergencies.
He said: “I am very much opposed to the closure of the City’s A&E department — in fact I don’t understand the decision at all and would like to know how this conclusion was reached.
“I would say south Belfast residents would have had a lot of trouble accessing the Royal Victoria A & E department the other week with the rioting that took place on Broadway. I have never known a riot like that to take place on the Lisburn Road entrance to the City hospital.
“I don’t even know if access to the Royal Victoria, that sits on this flashpoint area, has been taken into consideration?
“We have had sectarian problems with people waiting in Royal Victoria A&E being assaulted by others waiting in the department — these issues need to be taken into account.”
A public meeting is planned for next Monday, August 1, to plan a resident-led campaign against the closure. Organiser Paddy Meehan said: “We will not accept this attack on our health service.
“The waiting lists and pressure on A&E units across Belfast is already at crisis point. Closing A&E units will lead to an impossible strain and people will pay with their lives.
“People in Belfast deserve local services. Many people are not comfortable travelling further for treatment, especially as sectarianism has not disappeared.
“The Minister claims that City Hospital is moving to more planned surgeries and procedures is ludicrous.
“It was only last year the City’s emergency surgery team was removed due to cuts. The closure of A&E at the City is a step towards closing the City Hospital and must be determinedly resisted by the entire community.”
South Belfast UUP MLA and former Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said: “Almost 1,000 people per week visit the City Accident and Emergency — where are these people expected to go?
“The Mater already copes with over 40,000 per year, the Royal 70,000 and the Ulster 70,000 — more than double what it was built to accommodate. Add to this the additional numbers who will travel to Belfast as a result of reduced hours at the Lagan Valley.
“The plans outlined by the Minister will leave the Royal and Mater having to cope with up to an extra 50,000 patients from the City as well as those who may come from Lisburn as a result of reduced hours at Lagan Valley.”
Health Minister DUP MLA Edwin Poots said: “Most other cities would have one hospital providing a service. Now that isn't what we intend to go down to but I think we will have to look at the provision of A&E services across the city.”
The public meeting is at Ma Nelson’s pub on the Lisburn Road at 7pm on Monday, August 1.