High Court ruling grants Ballycastle MS unit a temporary reprieve
A multiple sclerosis sufferer has declared victory in the first legal challenge to keep a respite unit in Ballycastle open.
Philomena McKay (54) launched a judicial review after Health Minister Jim Wells decided to close the unit at Dalriada Hospital until March next year.
Dalriada has the only respite unit in Northern Ireland dedicated to MS sufferers.
It was to close temporarily due to pressures on the Northern Health Trust's budget.
Campaigners feared the temporary closure would only pave the way for a permanent shutdown.
However, a judge yesterday ruled the hospital must continue to accept new patients until a proper consultation is carried out.
Ms McKay (54), who has been using the 12-bed respite facility for years, had argued staff and patients had never been consulted. She launched judicial review proceedings and yesterday High Court Judge Mr Justice Treacy overturned the Health Minister's block on further admissions.
He said the balance of justice was "in favour of granting the interim relief".
Mrs McKay said the temporary reprieve was a "step in the right direction".
She added: "The doors are open but that the battle hasn't been won yet."
Rita Gallagher, who has been using the unit for four years, said: "It's a great day.
"MS is a very depressing disease. At Dalriada we counsel each other. It's our lifeline."
Director of the MS Society in Northern Ireland, Patricia Gordon, said that for people living with MS, respite care was crucial.
"We're pleased at this decision. Patients and carers can be reassured it will remain open for the next period of time," she added.
Dr Réamaí Mathers from the 'Save the Dal' campaign group said: "For over five weeks we've made it clear to the Health Minister the entire approach to the closure of Dalriada Hospital is fundamentally flawed, now he's hearing it from the High Court."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The primary obligation is for the Northern Trust to comply with today's court ruling. The trust will need to urgently review what actions are available to them to achieve the £6.9m savings required to break even by the end of the financial year."
She declined to comment on whether the department accepted there wasn't a consultation carried out and if the decision will be appealed.