Legal challenge over hospital A&E closure
Campaigners have launched a High Court bid to overturn the decision to close accident and emergency services at the Mid Ulster Hospital.
A judge heard claims that shutting the A&E unit has left another hospital struggling to cope with the extra patients now being sent there.
It was also argued that no attempt was made to recruit medical staff needed to run services at the Mid Ulster for nearly two years.
But lawyers for the Health Minister and the Northern Health Trust insisted the decision was taken to ensure public safety.
Emergency services at the hospital in Magherafelt were halted in May and replaced with a minor injury unit.
That move provoked an application for leave to seek a judical review brought by John Quinn, a 70-year-old from the Magherafelt area. His legal team submitted that there was a legitimate expectation that an A&E unit would remain there until 2012 when new facilities are due to be completed at Antrim Area Hospital.
Fiona Doherty, for Mr Quinn, claimed Antrim “cannot cope without not just some adjustments by significant adjustments, including a new building. That hasn't been done.”
Ms Doherty also pointed out that no recruitment drives for accident and emergency staff at the Mid Ulster had taken place since October 2008.
But Tony McGleenan, for the trust, pointed out that five un
successful attempts were made that year.
Dr McGleenan stressed how there was an obligation under law to provide a safe and effective service.
He added: “There came a point in 2010 where the trust could no longer provide services that met the clinical duty of care we owed to the public.”
David McMillen, appearing for the minister and Department of Health, agreed that the decision was taken because doctors and medical experts were not there.
“We believe if this wasn't done lives could be at risk,” he said.
“We also believe Antrim Area Hospital can cope with the additional patient load placed upon it.”
Mr Justice Treacy reserved his decision on whether to grant leave until next week.