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Cutbacks are a threat to acute health services

The decision by the South Eastern Trust to shut a 15-bed ward in the newly-opened Downe Hospital days after proposals to downgrade the Downe's A&E and remove psychiatric services from the Downshire Hospital in Downpatrick represents a steady erosion of acute services in south Down and Mourne.

The health and well-being of people is being seriously jeopardised by the South Eastern Trust in their series of cutbacks.

The Downe Hospital, which is due to be officially opened on Thursday, is now faced with a major downgrading of facilities.

For decades people and politicians lobbied and campaigned to save the old Downe Hospital from closure during the direct rule Conservative Government and also fought a relentless campaign to secure the new Downe Hospital.

Now, just one year since the new Downe Hospital opened, the people of south Down and Mourne are faced with another battle to retain vital acute services. This is quite simply unacceptable and makes a mockery of a healthcare system which should provide from the cradle to the grave.

I am a firm believer that when any type of service is seriously downgraded or removed, it is very difficult to fully re-establish the service.

That is why the senior management of the South Eastern Trust should re-examine the radical proposals of acute services cutbacks which they are planning for the Downe and Downshire.

It is now up to us - the people of the locality which the Downpatrick Hospital serves - to challenge these proposals at the public meeting on June 23.

If the South Eastern Trust do decide to proceed with their proposals, they may as well just lock the doors of the new Downe Hospital and put a 'for sale' sign up as they have effectively made the hospital no longer worth retaining.

PATRICK CLARKE

Dundrum, Co Down

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