New admissions are to continue at Dalriada Hospital until a legal challenge to the temporary closure of units is decided, a High Court judge ruled today.
Lifting the block on further patients being allowed onto the intermediate care and multiple sclerosis respite wards, Mr Justice Treacy held that campaigners fighting to stop the shutdown would be seriously disadvantaged if the order was not made.
He said: "The balance of justice comes down in favour of granting the interim relief."
The two units at the hospital in Ballycastle, Co Antrim were to close until March next year amid cuts to the Northern Health and Social Care Trust's budget.
The MS ward is the only dedicated respite unit in Northern Ireland for those with the debilitating condition.
It can accommodate 12 patients while the intermediate care ward can hold another 20.
According to the Trust alternative respite options will be made available.
But an MS sufferer who has been using the Dalriada facility for years has launched judicial review proceedings in a bid to have the plans halted.
Lawyers representing 54-year-old Philomena McKay have already cleared the first stage in their legal action amid claims that staff or patients were never consulted on the plans.
They went back to court today seeking to have the block on new admissions lifted while the legal battle continues.
It was claimed that the units may never re-open if the temporary closures are allowed to proceed.
Counsel for Mrs McKay also set out how the five main political parties were united both in their condemnation of the plans and in expressing fears that it will lead to a permanent shutdown.
A Stormont debate last month resulted in a call for Health Minister Jim Wells to reverse the decision.
Delivering judgment today on the Dalriada campaigners application, Mr Justice Treacy acknowledged the "stark display of cross-party support across every single party represented in the Assembly".
He also set out how GPs had expressed the same concerns about the ultimate outcome.
"I can see the force of the applicant's argument that if interim relief is not granted then interested parties may be seriously disadvantaged in the consultation exercise," the judge said.
He added that he was granting the order "based on my necessarily provisional assessment of the relevant strengths of the parties case as to the lawfulness of the decision to close services at the hospital without any consultation".
After lawyers checked on the implications of the determination, he confirmed: "The purpose of the order is to restore the status quo pending (the outcome of proceedings)."
A full hearing of the legal challenge is now expected to be fast-tracked through the court.