Health chiefs are pressing ahead with controversial plans to close the casualty unit at Downe Hospital at night — just 18 months after it opened.
The South Eastern Trust Board has voted in favour of proposals to close the A&E between 10pm and 8am, locate all acute psychiatric services at Lagan Valley Hospital and overhaul disability services.
As a result anyone with a life-threatening condition during the night will now have to travel to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.
It also means relatives of people with acute mental health conditions will have to travel to and from Lisburn’s Lagan Valley Hospital to visit their loved ones.
Members of the board came to the decision at an angry public meeting at the Downshire Hospital yesterday in front of a public gallery packed with hundreds of people opposed to the proposals.
Bosses at the South Eastern Trust have defended the plans, claiming they will protect patient safety and sustainability of services. They have blamed a shortage of middle grade doctors being recruited as the reason why they have to downgrade the casualty at Downe Hospital to an urgent care unit at night.
But local residents and politicians have vowed to continue the fight to save the services.
Colin McGrath, SDLP Down District councillor who addressed the board at the meeting, said the council plans to launch judicial review proceedings into the consultation process which he described as “fundamentally flawed”.
Meanwhile, South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane branded the consultation process a “sham from start to finish” and challenged John McCallister, a member of the Stormont health committee, to intervene.
“I have a special message for John McCallister and his party because he is the deputy leader of the UUP, he is Michael McGimpsey’s boss and he needs to go to him and say this isn’t on,” she said.
Hugh McCaughey, chief execu
tive of the trust, denied claims they have not done their best to fill vacant positions.
He said that they look as far afield as America, Australia and New Zealand to find suitable candidates to work in the Downe A&E.
Mr McCaughey said the trust has been left with no alternative but reduce the opening hours of the A&E in order to protect the future of the department.
The board listened to almost three hours of arguments from politicians and residents yesterday before members voted unanimously in favour of the three proposals.
They will now be presented to the Health & Social Care Board and the Health Minister Michael McGimpsey for final approval.