A community has united in anger at controversial plans to scrap Mid Ulster Hospital’s casualty wing and replace it with a minor injury unit with restricted opening hours.
Many people living in towns west of the River Bann — Magherafelt, Cookstown, Draperstown — are worried the removal of the A&E unit at Mid Ulster will result in tragedy and more than 50 staged a protest at the gates of the Magherafelt site yesterday.
They are convinced it will lead to increased suffering, stress and inconvenience for patients as they are treated at Antrim Area Hospital which appears to be struggling to cope even before the changes are implemented.
Parents with young children and pensioners who rely on the services provided at the hospital held placards calling for the Health Minister Michael McGimpsey to reverse the controversial decision, while passing motorists sounded their horns in support of the protest.
Rumours circulating among the assembled crowd that the X-ray department there is also to be shelved on Monday turned out to be untrue, although the Northern Trust has admitted the service will also be reduced.
A spokeswoman told the Belfast Telegraph: “There will be no immediate change to X-ray services. There are plans to realign the service with the minor injury unit.
“This is a diagnostic service supporting the accident and emergency unit which currently operates from 9am to 11pm. From Monday, the minor injury unit will open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and the radiology service will fall into line with this.”
Mid Ulster Sinn Fein MLA and deputy chair of the Stormont health committee Michelle O’Neill led yesterday’s protest.
She said: “I thought it was important we come out and put some pressure on the Health Minister and the Trust to reverse the decision. Sinn Fein has had three meetings with Michael McGimpsey this week to try and encourage him to reverse the decision but he seems to have closed his mind.
“We accept patient safety is an important issue but we don’t believe that can be guaranteed by pushing through these changes in a two-week period.
“We suggested to the Minister they could rotate the consultants between the different hospitals so they continue to get the clinical experience they need without closing A&E at the Mid Ulster but he wasn’t interested.
“We believe they are running down the services one by one until there is nothing left. There are rumours X-ray is going to go on Monday and the high dependency unit is going in July.”
Liz McNeill from Magherafelt said: “My daughter has diabetes and wasn’t well last year. The doctor thought she might have swine flu but there were no beds in Antrim so I had to drive her up to the Causeway instead.”
Conan Martin, also from Magherafelt, said: “About eight or nine months ago, my mum was taken by ambulance to Antrim. She arrived in the hospital at about 2pm and at about 10pm they transferred her up to the Causeway in Coleraine because they couldn’t get a bed for her.”
Eithne Lennon, from Cookstown, said: “I have a daughter with Downs Syndrome and as a parent of of a child with a disability this is very concerning.
“When she was young she swallowed a pen and other than the A&E at Mid Ulster she wouldn’t be here today. They provide a vital service.”
Sean Clarke, a member of Cookstown District Council, said: “This is a disaster for people living in Cookstown. We have to drive 25 miles just to get to the motorway and they are some of the worst roads in the country.”