Protests over MS unit closure plans
Several hundred people are expected to protest against the closure of Northern Ireland's only dedicated multiple sclerosis (MS) respite unit.
The 12-bed facility at Dalriada Hospital in Ballycastle, Co Antrim, is to close until March as part of a raft of money-saving measures proposed by the Department of Health.
More than 4,000 people are affected by MS in Northern Ireland - the highest rates in the UK.
Patricia Gordon, director of the MS Society in Northern Ireland, who is attending tonight's rally, said the proposed closure could have a devastating impact.
She said: "Regular, appropriate breaks are crucial for maintaining the well-being of carers and people with MS. Inadequate respite provision can lead to declining health, increasing pressure on carers and unnecessary and costly hospital admissions.
"Rumours have been circulating for years about the future of the MS regional respite unit in Dalriada Hospital and this announcement is a devastating blow for people who rely on this service."
Sinn Fein councillor in Ballycastle, Cara McShane said there was a deep sense of anger in the area.
She said: "People's blood is up on this issue and they are keen to get out onto the street to make their voices heard. There is a huge anger out there about this."
Donal Cunningham, SDLP chairman of Moyle District Council, said the decision to shut the MS unit was "flawed".
He said: "This is entirely unacceptable, and completely overlooks the dedication and professionalism of the staff in the Dalriada Hospital.
"I am asking people of the area to fight like never before to save Dalriada Hospital."
Health Minister Jim Wells outlined the drastic cuts yesterday as Stormont politicians agreed a draft budget for 2015/16.
The Department of Health has been allocated around £80 million for the current financial year. It had hoped to receive about £160 million.
Elsewhere across Northern Ireland there could be 100 fewer hospital beds with some wards closing at the weekend. Minor injury units in Armagh, Whiteabbey, County Antrim and Bangor, County Down will close and trusts will reduce the number of agency workers.
Maeve Hully, chief executive of the Patient and Client Council, said the cuts would affect society's most vulnerable.
She said: "These cuts will have the biggest impact on the most vulnerable in our society. We are particularly concerned about the closure of minor injury units, review of domiciliary care and bed closures.
"We are planning trust meetings to discuss these proposals and to understand how they will involve patients in decisions to change services."
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie, whose constituency is also affected by medical bed closures, hit out against the cuts.
She said: "These cuts will impact on the lives of all of us, patients, doctors, nurses, health care and ancillary staff. They will threaten every sector of the service right throughout our local health care system."