Belfast Telegraph

OAP in legal bid to have A&E's closure reversed

A decision to close the Downe Hospital's accident and emergency unit at night involved an element of predetermination, the High Court has heard.

Counsel for a pensioner challenging the move towards GPs providing out-of-hours cover at the £64m facilities in Downpatrick also suggested financial considerations may have been involved.

John Duggan, a former chairman of the hospital support group, is seeking a judicial review of the Health Minister's decision.

Down District Council is backing him in his bid to have the night-time closure of the A&E department reversed.

Campaigners argue it is irrational to undertake such a change just over a year after the hospital opened in 2009.

It has been contended in the case that there was a recognition by the Department of Health that 24-hour emergency services were needed for the local rural population.

David Scoffield, QC, for Mr Duggan, told the court: “One of the points made by the applicant is there is an element of predetermination made about this consultation and decision.”

Questions were also raised over the interest in emergency medicine among GPs who, from April, have been staffing shifts between 10pm and 8am.

The decision by the South Eastern Trust and approved by the minister was said to be necessary because of a shortage of middle-grade doctors.

Although it was stressed that the main issue was ensuring the best possible services, Mr Scoffield said his client was “sceptical” that financial considerations did not play a role.

He questioned what would happen if someone goes to the hospital at night and the out-of-hours GP is on a house call.

It was also claimed that the area lacked doctors with the specialist training to provide emergency services.

Mr Scoffield further contended the preferred option was arrived at without properly taking into account the consultation process.

“There is no revisiting of the scores after all of the consultation scores are in,” he said.

The case is due to continue today, when lawyers for the department will respond.

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