Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Contingency plan for DHH compounds closure fears

Fears are rising that a ‘contingency plan’ revealed at a Southern Health Trust Board meeting on Thursday last could result in the permanent closure of Daisy Hill Hospital’s Accident and Emergency unit.

The Board meeting, which was attended by local media and political representatives, was tabled as an extraordinary meeting to provide an update on the ongoing concerns regarding senior medical staff cover at Daisy Hill Emergency Department.  Staff shortages and unsuccessful recruitment campaigns have placed severe pressures on the facility and last week the Trust announced that the service may close at night and weekends if suitable medical cover cannot be secured.

However, on Thursday Trust officials unveiled a proposed contingency plan contained in its ‘Estates Solution’ document, the final item on an agenda that had already provided a summary of the staffing situation and recruitment attempts.  The paper outlined the Trust’s intention to invest over £1million in expanding the Emergency Department (ED) at Craigavon Area Hospital as a means of coping with additional patients should the service at Daisy Hill be suspended at night – something it claims is unavoidable.

The revelation that the Southern Trust Board has been asked to immediately approve the expansion of Craigavon’s ED has heightened alarm and sparked widespread anger, with local politicians branding the plans “totally unacceptable” and accusing the Trust of an “act of betrayal”.

In response, an online petition has been initiated demanding the retention of emergency services at Daisy Hill while a public meeting is scheduled to be held in Newry town hall next month which organisers hope will encourage many to come along and voice their opposition.

Political representatives across the district are united in their condemnation of the Trust’s contingency plans, claiming the Craigavon expansion will be to the detriment of Daisy Hill.

Assurances from Trust Director Roberta Brownlee at the close of Thursday’s meeting that the proposal would be “a last resort” and the Board remains strongly committed to Daisy Hill, have done little to allay concerns.

Responding angrily, Newry and Armagh MP Mickey Brady said the move is “a recipe to ensure eventual closure” of Daisy Hill’s ED and claims there is “no logic” in reducing services at Daisy Hill when Craigavon is already overstretched.

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said the issue as “a matter of grave disquiet, alarm and concern” and urged the Board not to “betray” patients and staff at Daisy Hill.

Speaking at the meeting the SDLP MP outlined the “perilous situation” her constituents in will find themselves without local accessibility to emergency department services at night time. Referring to the “temporary” closure of the Downe Hospital ED three years ago, Ms Ritchie said the same outcome for Daisy Hill would present a “totally unacceptable position” for those living in South Down.

Daisy Hill Action Group Chairperson Francis Gallagher, said many people feel the closure of Daisy Hill’s A&E is “a done deal” and that this decision was taken by the Trust and Department of Health “quite a while ago”.

“This argument follows that what we are seeing now is the Trust preparing the ground to take away Daisy Hill’s acute status by downgrading its A&E,” he said, adding that the prevailing belief is that, as part of this strategy,  investment is being made in Craigavon at the expense of Daisy Hill and that the shortage of doctors is being “talked up to undermine the smaller acute hospitals”.

Mr Gallagher said the people of Newry and Mourne are in a very difficult situation and have not been given “any meaningful influence” over the decision making process.

He says his group has put a team together from the business and community sector in Newry to meet with the Trust in the near future.

“The Daisy Hill Action Group’s approach is to try and genuinely engage with the Trust to help keep Daisy Hill’s acute status and this will show if they are being genuine,” he said.

“If this is not the case then a public debate on the matter will need to be brought forward.”

In its statement, the Trust said there will be no permanent changes to any services without a full and comprehensive public consultation and engagement with local communities.

“The Trust Board will continue to meet as necessary to review the situation in Daisy Hill Hospital and to seek assurance that all options are being explored,” a spokesperson said.