Mass opposition to axing of Daisy Hill stroke unit

April 1, 2019

 A full house is expected at a hastily-called public meeting to be held in Newry this Wednesday to rally the troops in mass opposition at the decision to remove the dedicated Stroke Unit from Daisy Hill Hospital.

The meeting will take place in the Canal Court Hotel’s Millers Suite at 7.00pm and will be chaired by Q Radio presenter Kevin McAllister with Mr Francis Gallagher, Chairperson of the Daisy Hill Action Group and Community Representative on the Daisy Hill Hospital Pathfinder Group confirmed as one of the keynote speakers.

The move follows last week’s announcement by the Department of Health as part of its proposals to consolidate health services laid out in its document ‘Reshaping Stroke Care’.  Launching a public consultation on the future of stroke services across the Southern Trust area, it emerged that retaining the Daisy Hill unit is not included in the six options offered, but instead a new hyper-acute stroke unit would be established at Craigavon Area Hospital (CAH).

It is argued that this could have severe repercussions for patients, particularly those living in rural areas, with longer travel times to CAH potentially missing a window of life-saving treatment that is critical in the initial two hours after suffering a stroke.

Outlining the rationale behind the proposals, the Department of Health document states:  “Stroke is a major health issue in NI with around 2,800 people being admitted to a hospital each year and 36,000 stroke survivors living in our communities.  It is important that every opportunity is taken to secure excellent care for people after a stroke and give them the best possible chance of a good recovery.

“Services across NI have been improving in recent years, but there is still significant variation across sites in terms of the time patients are seen and the treatment they access.

“The evidence is clear that we need to organise stroke services to give patients with acute stroke the best possible chance wherever they are in NI. It is unacceptable that the stroke treatment people receive – including access to brain scans and the clot busting drug thrombolysis – should vary according to where they live.

Campaigners, however, insist that lives of those living in the greater Newry area will be compromised if the stroke service is axed at Daisy Hill and have vowed to resist the move.

Newry & Armagh MP Mickey Brady angrily rejected the proposals not to include Daisy Hill as a site for a hyper-acute stroke unit and vowed his party and the community would “fight tooth and nail” against the removal of stroke services at the hospital.

 “There is a strong argument that Daisy Hill Hospital should be identified as a Hyper Acute Stroke Unit (HASU) because of its regional location and accessibility,” Mr Brady said.  “Any proposals to remove specialist stroke inpatient services from Daisy Hill will be resisted. It has been widely recognised that Daisy Hill Hospital here in Newry has a long history of providing the best stroke service in the north. We will fight tooth and nail to retain stroke services here”.

Mr Brady has confirmed that he will be meeting with the Chief Executive of the Southern Trust, Shane Devlin, in the coming days and has also requested an urgent meeting with Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary, Department for Health and Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride.  He plans to challenge the decision not to include Daisy Hill as an HASU.

“Plans to reshape Stroke Services must ensure that standards of treatment are improved across the North. Reconfiguring services is one way to do that but it must be carried out in a regionally balanced way, in partnership with those who use and deliver services, with the objective of improved health outcomes for patients at its heart.”

Encouraging people to engage with the consultation, which will run for 12 weeks, he added: “Whatever new configuration emerges from the consultation, the result has to be an improved service for all patients across all areas.  

Campaigners gather at Daisy Hill calling for stroke services to be retained at the hospital (Photo credit: Gavin Malone).

Every year, almost 1,000 people here die from stroke and independent health reports have called for an improvement in the standards of care.”

Meanwhile, SDLP MLA Justin McNulty says he is “saddened by not surprised” by the omission of Daisy Hill as an option for acute stroke care and has called for the public consultation to be scrapped.

He says the consultation document “is a continuation of the policy of side-lining Daisy Hill Hospital of stroke services – a policy first introduced by the Southern Trust back in 2015 when they opted to centralise services in Craigavon”.

“This decision is being made in the absence of a Health Minister and Assembly and is devoid of political scrutiny. This consultation document should be withdrawn immediately,” he insisted.  “The proposal will see the further centralisation of health services.  However, it’s more than centralisation as it further demonstrates the Department’s determination to strip services away from rural communities in favour of bigger urban settlements.  It means those who live in areas like south Armagh are having their lives put at risk.

“This process must be challenged, it is wrong and deeply flawed.  I appreciate emergency first response will still be available at Daisy Hill but this is simply not good enough as I fear this process continues to undermine Daisy Hill Hospital.

“Daisy Hill is an outstanding hospital and the Pathfinder process we engaged in for the Emergency Department has proven successful and popular.  This latest attempt to strip services from Newry must be resisted and the SDLP will be making our strong response to the consultation in due course.  I would urge the local community to make their voices heard in this process as well,” he added.

Independent candidate in next month’s local elections, Gavin Malone, has initiated Wednesday’s public and he is calling for people to come out in force to help save the stroke services at Daisy Hill.

Joining with community leaders, community groups and concerned citizens, Saoradh An Iúir has also voiced concerns.

Spokesperson Cliodhan McCool said: “The proposed removal of Daisy Hill Stroke Unit will have a detrimental effect on those who rely on it most. It is clear that those who made this decision have totally failed to take into account the views expressed by trade unions, health service staff and general public on this issue.

“Any campaign to save Daisy Hill Stroke Unit is to be welcomed and it is of vital importance that people in Newry and the surrounding areas throw their full support behind such a campaign.”