Proposals to move all acute inpatient psychiatric care in the South Eastern Trust to Lagan Valley Hospital could mean some people travelling for over five hours just to see their loved ones.
There are major concerns that locating inpatient psychiatric facilities in Lisburn will mean people living in the likes of Strangford and Kircubbin, who rely on public transport, may be unable to visit relatives.
The inpatient psychiatric ward at Lagan Valley is open daily to visitors between 3.30pm and 5pm and for a few hours in the evening, but those relying on public transport will largely only be able to visit during the afternoon.
An analysis of the Translink timetables shows residents of the trust catchment area, particularly those living in rural parts of the Ards peninsula, will have to make lengthy journeys with changes throughout their trip.
Those, for example, travelling from Strangford will have to leave their home at about 11am to arrive in Lisburn shortly after 2pm. They will not return home until after 5.30pm.
Residents of Kircubbin will have to leave home before noon but will not get home until after 6.20pm. They will spend over four hours travelling just to spend some time with seriously ill relatives.
Even people living in Newtownards face a lengthy three-hour round trip just to get to and from Lagan Valley Hospital to see friends or relatives.
The proposed relocation of all acute inpatient psychiatric services has been met with anger by South Down MP Margaret Ritchie.
Residents and politicians are outraged at plans to move services from the new Downe Hospital in Downpatrick.
Among the proposals, the A&E at the Downe will close during the night and all acute emergency patients will be taken to the Ulster Hospital and acute psychiatric inpatient facilities will go to Lagan Valley.
While the South Eastern Trust has said it will provide transport assistance if the changes are implemented, it has not provided details on who will be eligible or the type of assistance that will be offered for patients and relatives.
Ms Ritchie said: “It is already distressing enough to have to visit a loved one in hospital, these changes will only compound that.
“They will raise some very serious problems for people living in rural areas in particular and for those who do not have access to their own transport. Public transport is not good enough.
“I would also have concerns about moving psychiatric services away from Downpatrick which has a 150-year history of providing that service. I will be meeting with the Health Minister in the new year to speak to him and I would hope he will listen.”
The plans have already been approved by the South Eastern Trust Board and the Health & Social Care Board but Michael McGimpsey must approve the recommendations before they can be implemented. It is thought he may make a decision within weeks.