Musgrave Park Hospital elderly ward to close as nurses 'redeployed to ease staff shortage'
Health bosses in Belfast have come under fire for plans to close a ward for elderly patients as they deal with staff shortages.
Public service union Unison has said staff were informed by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust last week of proposals to close a rehabilitation ward for elderly patients at Musgrave Park Hospital.
The union's regional organiser Joe McCusker said he understood ward 1 at Meadowlands was to be shut within a matter of weeks.
Patients would be transferred to a nursing home, while staff working at the unit would be redeployed to the Royal and City Hospitals, he added.
Mr McCusker branded the plan "madness" and said Unison will oppose any attempt to close the ward.
"There were proposals to close ward 1 at Meadowlands and the residents were to be moved to a private sector nursing home," said Mr McCusker.
"Unison met with the trust and we told them we would actively oppose it. We were told at the meeting that the trust was considering the plan because of a nursing shortage at the Royal and the City. The trust claimed that it was a temporary measure, but as we are aware from history - with the case of the A&E at the City Hospital - temporary measures become permanent."
Mr McCusker said it was difficult to understand why the trust would consider closing beds and moving patients to a private nursing home given the crisis in the independent care home sector.
Last November more than 250 care home residents and 393 staff faced an uncertain future after the UK's largest private care home company said the homes were no longer financially viable. As a result proposals to close a number of care homes run by the health service were put on hold.
UUP health spokeswoman Jo-Anne Dobson said she was opposed to the closure of the ward at Meadowlands.
"It is simply not fair that vulnerable patients should be left to feel the brunt of the escalating crisis affecting our health service," she said.
"This proposal to close Meadowlands, coming as we face the beginning of the winter period, is deeply worrying and also potentially dangerous, a decision which is indicative of another failure to effectively workforce plan."
A spokeswoman from the trust said: "In preparation for a period of high demand in the winter months ahead, our Older Peoples Service is proposing to temporarily relocate some of its nursing staff from Meadowlands Rehabilitation Unit to the acute medical wards in both Belfast City Hospital and the Royal Victoria Hospital.
"This will ensure full and sustainable nursing levels in these critical ward areas. It is an operational matter and will be subject to further discussion.
"Community-based rehabilitation services will be increased during this period to ensure that rehabilitation services are also enhanced."