A judicial review to halt the temporary closure of Northern Ireland's only dedicated respite unit for multiple sclerosis suffers was given the go-ahead as its two last patients left yesterday.
MS sufferer Philomena McKay was granted leave at the High Court to seek a judicial review of the cuts being imposed at Dalriada Hospital in Ballycastle, Co Antrim.
Lawyers for the Cushendun woman are also set to urge a judge to order that a 'no new admissions' policy at the unit should be lifted until the action is ultimately decided.
Backed by others who use the facilities, Mrs McKay issued proceedings after the Northern Health and Social Care Trust announced the MS unit would close at the end of this month until March next year.
The decision to close the unit was taken as part of a "financial rebalancing programme".
According to the trust, alternative respite options will be made available to patients.
Mrs McKay (54) has been living with the neurological condition for 29 years.
She has used the unit at Dalriada Hospital for several years.
Her legal team have based their challenge on claims that no proper consultation with staff and patients was carried out before the temporary closure decision was taken.
David Scoffield QC, for Mrs McKay, pressed for an interim order that any new patients are to be admitted.
"The (Health) minister has conceded those who are there at present will not be pushed out the door," he told Mr Justice Treacy.
Mr Justice Treacy said he was listing the issue for further hearing and confirmed: "I'm sitting on Tuesday as a matter of urgency to deal with the matter."
The specialised unit closed its doors yesterday as its last two patients - Mervyn Hynman from Magherafelt and Francis Hunter from Coleraine - left.
Mr Hunter told the Belfast Telegraph of his worry and concern as to where he will receive his next two weeks of respite care, due to take place in February.
The wheelchair-bound father normally requires four separate fortnight periods of respite care each year
The 56-year-old, who was diagnosed with MS in 1990, said: "We are more or less being thrown out of here, that's my way of putting it.
"The other place in Garvagh suggested is not suitable, so we just have to wait and see.
"It's as if we don't matter and as if we are a drain on the Northern Trust."
His wife Linda (50), her husband's main carer, added: "I need the respite break as much as he does. I don't think anyone can really understand the stress of what carers are under until they do it themselves.
"I could hardly sleep with worry that weekend we heard that Dalriada was going to close.
"Francis has been going to Dalriada so long that the staff there, who are really good, know exactly how to work for him and what he needs."
Story so far
Health Minister Jim Wells announced an eight-week public consultation to determine if there was an alternative to the temporary closure of the Dalriada Hospital multiple sclerosis (MS) respite centre on Tuesday.
However, this was been branded "a farce" by patients and their families after it emerged no new admissions to the unit will take place during the process.