Belfast Telegraph

Night closure of A&E faces court challenge

By Lisa Smith and Alan Erwin

Health campaigners have welcomed a decision to allow them to challenge the night-time closure of the accident and emergency unit at the Downe Hospital.

A judge granted leave to seek a judicial review of the Health Minister's decision to have GPs provide an out-of-hours service at the £64m facility in Downpatrick during the night.

The bid to have the move reversed has been taken in the name of John Duggan, a former chairman of the hospital support group, with the backing of Down District Council.

His barrister, David Scoffield, argued that there had been a recognition by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) that 24-hour A&E services were needed for the local rural population.

“This is a matter of grave concern to many who live in the area, particularly those in ill-health, such as the applicant,” Mr Scoffield said. “The decision to build a new hospital at vast public expenditure and then immediately undermine it... is irrational.”

Questions were also raised over the specialist interest in emergency medicine among GPs who, from April, have been staffing shifts between 10pm and 8am.

The decision, taken by the South Eastern Health & Care Trust, and approved by the Health Minister was said to be necessary because of a shortage of middle-grade doctors.

Paul McLaughlin, responding for the DHSSPS, told the court it was a problem affecting the pro

vision of emergency services nationwide.

“The ultimate disaster for all hospitals is unplanned closures,” he said.

“This is a problem driven by a lack of suitable, qualified doctors. What the trust did was identify a very novel and perhaps unique solution to managing emergency care during night-time hours.

“The result of this is the unit actually remains open rather than closed.”

He further argued that it would be inappropriate for the legal challenge to proceed when the new arrangements have been in place for months.

However, Mr Justice Treacy granted leave to seek a judicial review after ruling that an arguable case had been established on all grounds of challenge.


In February the former Health Minister approved changes to the way emergency care was delivered in the South Eastern Trust. Chief executive of the Trust Hugh McCaughey said changes must be implemented to ensure patient safety as there was a shortage of doctors to work in the A&E at the Downe Hospital. Campaigners fear lives have been put at risk because of the reduced opening hours.

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