Belfast Telegraph

Pupils form symbolic shield at Dalriada Hospital to defend MS unit threatened with closure

By Harriet Crawford

A 10-year-old boy has made an plea to the Health Minister to save the threatened Multiple Sclerosis unit at Dalriada Hospital.

Somhairle Mathers, whose grandmother received palliative care in the Ballycastle-based facility, has written a letter to Health Minister Jim Wells asking him to save the unit under threat of closure.

"My grandmother was in Dalriada Hospital until she died. All the doctors and nurses were good to her and treated her well," he wrote.

"My grandmother was a wonderful woman. She was a nurse as well in the hospital.

"The Dalriada Hospital makes a big difference to lives in Ballycastle.

"So please Mr Wells, don't let people close Dalriada."

Somhairle was one of 500 students from each of the five local schools who added their voices to protests against the closure of the MS unit yesterday.

They joined hands to encircle the hospital in a symbolic gesture of defiance.

When the unit's doors shut on November 30, Northern Ireland's only multiple sclerosis respite care centre will be closed and 12 beds offering palliative and non-acute, community hospital care will be lost, although the Northern Health and Social Care Trust insist the closure is only temporary to meet a cost-cutting directive from Stormont.

Somhairle was one of the 34 primary school students whom Principal of Gaelscoil An Chaistil, Brídín Ní Dhonnaghaile, brought to yesterday's protest, where he read aloud his letter.

She told the Belfast Telegraph: "The hospital belongs to all of the community, including the children. A lot of our children have had personal dealings with the hospital.

"We want to facilitate them to make their voices heard. It was good to be able to bring the children up to voice their concerns."

The protest was chaired by Moyle councillor Cara McShane, who said: "It's more than just a hospital. The children gave a very emotive and strong message. They were calling for the minister to save our hospital."

Factfile

The Trust says the unit's temporary closure is part of a required spending reduction of £6.9m for 2014/15.

Local residents have initiated a "Save the Dal" campaign and petition to keep the hospital unit open and users of the hospital's MS services have launched legal challenges against the closure.

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