Anger as trust sticks with plans to axe 20-bed ward at Bangor Community Hospital
Campaigners have spoken of their "utter disappointment" over a decision by health bosses to axe 20 beds in Bangor Community Hospital permanently.
Four months after a High Court declared last year's "temporary" closure had been unlawful, the board of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust has decided the unit should stay shut.
It follows a major campaign to reopen the doors of the GP ward, that included a petition signed by 3,000 people.
The trust's recommendation will now be sent to the Health Minister and Executive, who will make the final decision.
UUP councillor and campaigner Marion Smith described the situation as "a farce".
The minor injuries unit and the 20 GP inpatient beds based in the hospital had been earmarked for temporary closure as part of cost-cutting plans.
But following public pressure, former Health Minister Jim Wells reversed the decision to close the MIU, but stood by the decision to close the 20-bed unit.
However, one of the ward's users issued judicial review proceedings in an attempt to have the move reversed.
Last month a High Court judge ruled the closure was unlawful, as no public consultation had been carried out before it was shut last October. But by then the trust had launched a consultation - and despite the closure being unlawful, the judge did not order the unit to be reopened.
Now that the consultation has ended, the trust has arrived back at its original decision - to close the unit. It said up to 105 beds could be sourced from a number of other locations.
Ms Smith, however, who was invited to address the trust, said she believed it did not listen to the views of thousands of people.
"The speaking rights we were granted at the meeting I regard as a farce," she said.
"I really am disappointed in the decision and feel the trust really didn't have any regard to our views. I'm completely disillusioned with the trust and believe that their decision was already made up last year."
Green Party leader Steven Agnew MLA described the decision as "short-sighted".
"This is a short-sighted approach by the trust which instead should be looking at a long-term, sustainable solution to ensure that people in the Bangor area can access the first-class health care that they deserve," he said.
Both Mr Agnew and Ms Smith said they will be writing to the Health Minister to raise concerns ahead of the final decision.
In a statement, the trust said the option was the only one that allowed it to "provide safe, high quality intermediate care services while also providing the cost savings required".
"The trust believes this option will develop a sustainable, flexible model which is patient-centred and provides choice while taking into account demographic changes, increasing demand for our services and supporting people to manage their own conditions."
The GP ward at Bangor Community Hospital closed temporarily last October, as part of wider budget cuts. Thousands of people campaigned and signed a petition to keep the beds open. Last month a High Court judge ruled this closure was unlawful, as no public consultation had been carried out beforehand. Now the consultation is over, the trust says it wants a permanent closure.