Belfast Telegraph

If you slash acute services at Causeway Hospital there’ll be chaos, consultant warns trust

By Lisa Smyth

A senior doctor has warned any attempt to cut services in one of Northern Ireland’s biggest hospitals will result in “chaos” and will put patient safety at risk.

Dr Owen Finnegan has predicted the removal of acute services at the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine will result in “significant health risk” and “significant deterioration in the delivery and standard of healthcare” for patients.

The stark warning was made in a letter written by the retired consultant to the chief executive of the Northern Health & Social Care Trust, Sean Donaghy, in March.

Dr Finnegan wrote: “If acute services are withdrawn from the Causeway it is the opinion of every clinician that I have talked with in both the north and the south of the trust area that chaos will result. The Royal College of Physicians-sponsored report... which related specifically to Northern Ireland... states that acute medicine requires the on-site support of A&E services, critical care, 24-hour diagnostics and surgery.

“Without these services in Causeway, the local population would be put at significant health risk and the service in Antrim Hospital would be unable to cope, leading to significant deterioration in the delivery and standard of health care for the trust area.”

The letter comes as public service union Unison warned an outbreak of gastroenteritis at Antrim Area Hospital has left staff there at breaking point.

The future of services at the Causeway Hospital are currently under consideration as part of a major review of health and social services across Northern Ireland.

There are concerns the hospital could be stripped of its acute status, meaning services such as the A&E, surgery and intensive care would be affected.

As a result, Antrim Area Hospital would be the only acute hospital in the trust area.

Dr Finnegan said he stood over the contents of his letter.

He added: “I think even Sean Donaghy would admit Antrim couldn’t cope if the Causeway was closed.

“It just wouldn’t have the capacity to do it.

“I am saying the same as all the consultants in the Causeway in that the only safe way of continuing to deliver healthcare is to have acute services in Coleraine.

“The extra distance people would have to travel, that hour of travel would put lives at risk. Secondly, services at the Causeway are safe and sufficient. It would not be possible for Antrim to do this.”

East Londonderry MLA David McClarty called the comments “highly significant”. He said: “Those in charge would do well to pay attention to what he is saying.”

A spokeswoman from the trust said there are no plans at present to change Causeway Hospital.

She said it is developing plans with the Northern Area Local Commissioning Group in response to the proposals in Transforming Your Care.

She continued: “We are developing our contribution to these draft plans in partnership with senior clinicians and staff and a range of other stakeholders.

“The focus of these plans is on ensuring services are safe and sustainable for the long-term. Draft plans will be reviewed at a public trust board meeting prior to submission to the Health and Social Care Board in June.”

Extracts from Dr Finnegan’s letter...

“I am writing to you as chief executive of the Northern Health & Social Care Trust to express my serious and growing concern about the future of acute hospital services in the trust’s area.

“These concerns are on the background of 30 years services as a consultant physician in Coleraine. If acute services are withdrawn from the Causeway it is the opinion of every clinician that I have talked with in both the north and the south of the trust area that chaos will result.

“The Royal College of Physicians-sponsored report... which related specifically to Northern Ireland... states that acute medicine requires the on-site support of A&E services, critical care, 24-hour diagnostics and surgery. Without these services in Causeway, the local population would be put at significant health risk.”

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