The future role of the Mater Hospital has been thrown into doubt after the chairman of the health committee said it may be downgraded to a local hospital.
The hospital, situated on the Crumlin Road in north Belfast, currently provides a wide range of services including acute inpatient, accident and emergency services, day procedures, mental health services and a maternity ward.
However, under plans being considered by health chiefs, the hospital could be downgraded to a local hospital which essentially means it would be stripped of the acute services it currently provides.
The services would be relocated to the likes of the Royal Victoria and Belfast City hospitals.
The proposals are in line with the theory that services can be better provided by creating specialist centres under one roof so that experts in a specialism work together with the required facilities.
Representatives from the Health & Social Care Board attended an evidence session at the Stormont health committee yesterday to discuss the repercussions of the latest cuts to the health budget.
Addressing the chief executive of the board John Compton, the committee chair Jim Wells said: “The Mater will eventually become a local hospital. That will start a few alarm bells ringing.”
Instead of denying the possibility, Mr Compton said acute service provision in hospitals across Northern Ireland is currently under review. He said: “The hospital system as it currently is can’t work any longer. There is no point pretending that it can.
“We want, where possible, single site hospital specialities. We want them in one place, not in two places. How many sites should we go to in Northern Ireland at 1am in the morning if you need an emergency medical procedure?”
The DHSSPS and Health Board have been moving more and more towards the centralisation of services in recent years as part of an improvement to services, as well as an efficiency drive.
A spokesman from the Health Board said any proposed changes to the care provided at Northern Ireland hospitals will “be subject to extensive discussion and consultation with all interested parties”.