The doors of City Hospital A&E closed to patients yesterday — signalling the end of an era and an uncertain future for emergency services in Belfast.
There was no formal ceremony to mark the shutting down of the casualty unit which has treated countless patients over the decades.
Its end was instead signalled quietly when, at 8.20am, an employee emerged and placed in a poster window of the A&E department’s doors to inform patients it is no longer open.
Staff at the long-running unit were said to be emotional as they dealt with the last patients to come through their doors.
From early morning, many took time to carry boxes filled with files to their cars.
As nurses and other members of staff left the hospital after finishing their shift, some stood to quickly chat others shared a hug.
A few people stood outside, studying the words of the poster hanging in the window and shaking their heads.
Among the last patients to be treated in the A&E department was Leanna Bailey.
After spending the night in the Emergency department at the Royal Victoria Hospital, the 21-year-old, who needs surgery on her gallbladder, was transferred to the City Hospital.
Speaking outside the hospital, her mother Julie Anne Bailey said her daughter was now waiting in A&E.
The 47-year-old from Carryduff said she was “very concerned” at how the team of doctors and nurses at the Royal Victoria Hospital Accident and Emergency would cope.
“Leanna was transferred from the Royal after an eight hour wait at 4am.
“She needs surgery on her gallbladder. I was in the RVH casualty last night for hours and resources and the staff were working flat out, so how they are going to pick up the overspill from the City, I really don’t know. Leanna is in the A&E now waiting on a bed.
“We arrived at the Royal at 9.05pm last night but she was transferred out in ambulance and to lie and wait in the A&E at the City.”
Mrs Bailey, a nurse, said the atmosphere in the department among staff this morning was “surreal”.
“I knew the department was closing and I am devastated about it,” she said.
“I think it is demoralising for the public and for the staff.
“I’ve been in the Health Service for 30 years and it is just terrible what is happening. I think there is far too much bureaucracy.
“You can feel the despondency among the staff in there.
“I did see some tears and hugs.”
She added: “I asked one of the nurses what was happening, one said she was going to be redeployed to the Mater or the Royal.
“They said it was a very surreal atmosphere.
“The posters are up saying that this is a temporary measure, but I really doubt it will reopen again.
“It is a terrible day for the Health Service.”