Belfast Telegraph

Dalriada patients in legal bid to prevent closure of hospital's MS unit

By Harriet Crawford

Two people who live with a debilitating condition have launched a legal challenge against the closure of a hospital unit in which they bare treated.

Philomena McKay and John Smylie, who suffer from multiple sclerosis and rely on the MS respite centre at Ballycastle's Dalriada Hospital, have instructed lawyers to seek a judicial review of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust's decision.

The applications have been made on the basis that the Northern Health and Social Care Trust and the Health and Social Care Board failed to carry out adequate consultation with patients and staff before the decision was taken.

The "shocking loss" of the hospital unit on November 30 would see the axing of Northern Ireland's only multiple sclerosis respite care centre, as well as 20 beds offering palliative and non-acute, community hospital care.

Mrs McKay (54), from Cushendun, has had MS for 29 years and has used the centre's respite care for the last four-and-a-half years.

She told the Belfast Telegraph: "The way everything is happening at the minute, it is like the cart before the horse.

"They should have come and talk to us first.

"It's sad that we've been pushed this far, but it's all we can do. I am speaking on behalf of all respite users - including those who are bed-bound and can't speak for themselves. They've never even been talked to."

She felt it "sad" that users of the hospital were forced to mount legal challenges to be heard by the Government.

"Healthcare means care. Your health is your wealth -that is what this is all about.

"The Health Minister and the Government are not showing a lot of care, are they?" MS sufferers use the residential respite centre for two weeks, four times a year.

The NHSCT has offered Mrs McKay two alternatives to the unique care Dalriada Hospital offers: respite care provided by someone living in her home full-time or care in a nursing home. "No thanks," she said. "24/7 respite at home, living with you - I'm not the only one that lives in this house, and who would want a stranger coming into their home?"

MS sufferers would also lose the therapeutic support the centre provides, Mrs McKay said.

"It's the comradeship. You can sit down in Dalriada for your dinner and you can be fumbly, drop knives, drop forks and nobody is saying 'Tut, tut', which would happen in loads of other places.

"I'm 'normal' when I go down there. If the centre closes I will become a prisoner in my own home."

The NHSCT confirmed it received a "judicial review pre action protocol letter" and could not comment further.

SDLP Moyle councillor Catherine McCambridge said: "I know Philomena well and would be fully supportive of her legal challenge on behalf of all users of this facility.

"The closure of Dalriada, however temporary, is a shocking loss to our local community and to MS users from across the province."

Independent Moyle councillor Padraig McShane spoke of Mr Smylie's challenge.

"It is clear his human rights alongside his right to lead as normal a life as possible are being seriously transgressed by the minister's decision.

"Any legal challenge to retain the services at Dalriada Hospital are very much welcome. I think that what you're seeing is a community working together to maintain services.

"The facilities need to be maintained - it has been promoted as a working model of what community hospitals should be."

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