Belfast Telegraph

Cutting hospital’s A&E hours ‘will cost lives’

By Lisa Smyth

Frontline healthcare staff have warned cutting back the opening hours of the casualty unit at Downe Hospital will place increasing pressure on ambulance cover in the area.

Responding to proposals to scale back the opening hours of the acute emergency care at the Downpatrick hospital, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) has warned it could lead to delayed patient response times and longer journey times for patients.

The comments were uncovered by Down councillor Colin McGrath, who submitted a Freedom of Information request seeking the views of the Ambulance Service on the matter.

Mr McGrath believes the comments prove lives will be put at risk should the South Eastern Trust press ahead with its plans. He is calling on Health Minister Michael McGimpsey to address the concerns.

“The clear message from the Ambulance Service is that the changes proposed will result in pressures which will surely cost lives,” he said.

“Now is the time for our Health Minister to step up to the mark and take full operational responsibility for this debacle of a consultation — and scrap it in order to provide the people of Down with the services that they need, not wish or want, but need.

“I will be writing to the minister and seeking an urgent meeting to discuss the implications of this report and hope that he is democratic and responsive enough to meet with me to hear the concerns of the people of Down.”

The £64m Downe Hospital was officially opened in June and proposals to reduce the opening hours of the A&E have been met with anger.

Under plans being considered by the South Eastern Trust, the emergency department would run as normal between 8am and 10pm but would only act as an urgent care department overnight.

This would mean all acute emergency patients would have to be taken to another A&E such as the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.

Responding to the proposals, the NIAS said: “Such changes may result in increased demand for ambulance transport and longer journey times for patients. The impact of these changes may result in delays in ambulance responses unless there is consideration given to providing additional resources.

“It should not be underestimated that any proposal to achieve the principals as discussed in the consultation document can only be achieved if there is confidence in the emergency service provision for the area as a whole.”

However, Mr McGrath believes it is unlikely additional resources will be made available to the NIAS given the recession.

The Health Minister was unavailable to comment.

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