The City Hospital emergency unit will not reopen if it shuts in October over doctor shortages, it has been claimed.
It has emerged a proposed temporary closure of the emergency department will last at least a year until permanent changes to A&Es in Belfast are put in place.
Stormont health committee chair Jim Wells said: “If we are being realistic I don’t think the A&E at the City will ever reopen.
“History shows us that once these decisions are made and the objections die down they go on to become permanent. If the City Hospital A&E closes for a year it isn’t going to open again.”
Chief executive of the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust Colm Donaghy told the Belfast Telegraph he does not believe it will be possible to fill the vacancies by the end of next month.
Health bosses are currently considering a temporary closure of the A&E department at the City Hospital from October — blaming the reduction on a shortage of senior A&E doctors.
Mr Donaghy said the change at the City Hospital A&E will remain in place until the implementation of permanent changes to A&E services in Belfast — not expected for 12 months.
The trust is to publish a consultation paper to outline the five-year plan for emergency services in Belfast hospitals in September.
Any proposals will have to be approved by the Health & Social Care Board and Health Minister, Edwin Poots before they can be put in place. This process is expected to take about a year.
In July Mr Poots revealed he was considering a proposal to cut the number of A&Es in Belfast from three to two, and indicated the City was in the firing line.
He said changes were necessary as there are not enough consultants in emergency medicine in the trust to ensure adequate supervision of junior doctors.
Mr Donaghy said: “We are in the process of planning up to September 30 but if at any stage during the next six or seven weeks we manage to secure enough doctors to work the closure will not be necessary. I think it is unlikely we will be able to find enough doctors to fill the vacancies.
“There are 11 shifts we can’t fill which leaves us in a position if we can’t get doctors in place to fill these shifts we will have to make a decision, which would be to transfer A&E services from the City to the Royal Victoria Hospital to ensure we have a sustainable emergency service for Belfast.
“Not to do that would mean the service would collapse on the City site, as we would not be able to get appropriate cover to ensure patient safety.”
In July the Stormont health committee was told by Health Minister Edwin Poots A&E units in Belfast were likely to be cut from three to two, and said the City Hospital’s unit was in the firing line.
Mr Poots said the changes are necessary for patient safety because there are not enough senior doctors to supervise junior doctors working in Belfast’s A&Es.