Patient diversions to remain at Belfast's Mater Hospital
Overnight ambulance diversions and the redirection of children from Belfast's Mater Hospital emergency department are set to continue, the Assembly has heard.
The temporary measures were introduced by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust after medics raised concerns about patient safety on Friday.
But Health Minister Simon Hamilton told MLAs at Stormont that staffing difficulties at the north Belfast hospital meant there is unlikely to be any immediate change to the situation.
He said: "Overnight ambulance diverts from the Mater are expected to remain in place as a temporary measure and children will be re-directed to the nearby Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, which has a dedicated paediatric emergency department, while Belfast Trust seeks to resolve the concerns identified and recruit senior medical staff."
The Belfast Trust operates two EDs at the Mater and Royal Victoria Hospital as a joint service.
Its statement on Friday said ambulances would be diverted from the Mater between 6pm and 8am and, outside normal working hours, children under 14 would be referred to the nearby Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
The decision, taken following a meeting of clinicians, would remain under review, the Trust said.
Mr Hamilton, who was speaking during Question Time at the Assembly, said he had to act.
He added: "If clinicians are coming to me or my department and they are saying the service as it is being run in the short or longer term is unsafe, then I have a duty to listen to them and I have a duty to act."
But the move has been condemned by unions.
A Unison spokesman said: "The Mater Hospital Unison branch categorically condemns the Belfast Trust's decision to stop paediatrics being treated within the Mater ED department.
"This is a poor decision and will not be accepted by the Unison branch committee and no doubt the local community."
A campaign to save the hospital has also been launched, he said.
The casualty unit at Belfast City Hospital closed its doors as a temporary measure in 2011.
Sinn Fein's Fra McCann urged the Health Minister to "do all in his power" to resolve the staffing difficulties.
He said: "I accept and appreciate there are many difficulties in this."
MLAs also heard concerns over recruitment and retention of senior medical staff at the ED in Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry, and lack of ambulance cover in South Armagh.