The Belfast Health Trust has endorsed a consultation paper which outlines the future of accident and emergency services at the city’s three main hospitals.
It approved a recommendation that A&E units at the Royal Victoria and Mater hospitals should be retained. But a question mark still looms over the long-term future of Belfast City Hospital's accident and emergency unit.
There was anger among many politicians and residents ahead of the unit’s closure in November last year - due to a shortage of senior staff - but at the time the closure was described as temporary.
The Health and Social Care Board is now due to discuss the issue on Thursday.
At a specially convened meeting of Belfast Health Trust yesterday, senior executives were given details about how the closure has been affecting the city’s other two main hospitals.
The BBC reported that Dr Patricia Donnelly - the trust’s director of acute services - produced figures which showed the number of people visiting emergency departments at the Royal and Mater hospitals had fallen by 15%.
During the same nine month period there was also a 26% reduction in patient waiting times.
Dr Donnelly said different options had been discussed relating to the future of Belfast’s three main hospitals. That included having accident and emergency services at all three, holding on to emergency units at the Royal and Mater, and concentrating A&E services at the Royal Victoria only.
She said the trust had looked at a range of criteria - including patient safety and quality of service before deciding to endorse the option of retaining accident and emergency at the Royal and Mater only.
Dr Donnelly added that the temporary closure of the City’s A&E department had been taken without public consultation.
“We would have preferred to have been in a position where we could have taken a more strategic and more carefully thought out proposal but because of shortages of middle grade doctors in emergency departments - which right round the UK is a real big problem - we couldn’t sustain three emergency departments, so you have to make choices and we had to act very quickly,” she added.
The consultation paper will now be put before the Health and Social Care Board tomorrow.