Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Political representatives lobby for protection of Daisy Hill A&E facility

As fears continue to grow over the future of the A & E facility at Daisy Hill Hospital, amid senior staff resignations and ongoing difficulties in recruiting and retaining top level medical personnel,  local political representatives have stepped up their lobbying in Stormont and at a local level, united in their calls to protect the vital Emergency Department from any reduction in opening hours.

Last week, the Independent/Alliance group on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council successfully put forward a motion which calls for the development of a hospital forum aimed at giving local councillors the opportunity to combat cuts to both the Downe and Daisy Hill Hospitals.

Referring to the most recent statement from the Southern Trust which admitted facing challenges in the recruitment and retention of senior medical staff in the local A& E department but insisted that the Trust was committed to 24/7 Emergency Department cover, Group Leader Cadogan Enright said,

“The same trick was pulled on us at the Downe Hospital. The South Eastern Trust completely accepted that a 24 hour A & E unit was required at the Downe for clinical purposes, and claimed to be planning and budgeting for this and seeking to deliver it.”

Mr Enright claimed that depsite those reassurances, the South Eastern Trust has failed to appoint appropriate staff with night shifts being covered by local doctors while emergencies are being diverted to Belfast.

“It is pretty clear to me that this is exactly the same strategy that is being adopted by the Southern Trust with Daisy Hill,” he added.

His group colleague, Independent Newry City Councillor Kevin McAteer said:

“It is vital that we prevent cuts from occurring at Daisy Hill Hospital and it is important that all parties and politicians work together on this. The development for a hospital forum will help facilitate that by giving councillors the opportunity to work together to help prevent said cuts from taking our vital services.

“It is important to point out that these cuts to both Daisy Hill and the Downe hospital are unnecessary and uncalled for as both hospitals have proven time and again that they are an important part of our community and that their services are vital to this district.”

The lobbying for the protection of Daisy Hill’s Emergency Department also reached the Assembly floor with Sinn Féin MLA Megan Fearon challenging the DUP Health Minister Simon Hamilton about the situation last week.

The south Armagh representative said Daisy Hill provided a vital service to rural communities and asked the Minister to do all in his power to protect the hospital’s Emergency Department.

“You cannot overestimate the importance of a fully functioning, 24/7 Emergency Department, particularly for rural communities such as the one I represent,”

“This is especially important, given the completely inadequate Ambulance Service cover that there has been in south Armagh. Recently, the South Armagh First Responders were set up as a community innovation to tackle the problem, but the Health Minister needs to bring his own innovation to recruitment.   To date, his predecessors have failed to tackle the recruitment problem that has been bubbling up in the health service.”

The Health Minister responded that he was aware of the problem and had been in talks with Newry MLA Conor Murphy on the issue.

“I have no desire to see emergency services reduced at Daisy Hill Hospital but, as the Member will appreciate, my priority will always be to try to ensure the highest possible levels of quality and safety in our health and social care services,” he said.

Mr Hamilton revealed that he had met with representatives of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine last week to discuss a range of issues. He said they welcomed the efforts that had been put in over the last number of years to attract more staff to emergency medicine but conceded that “they did not, by any means, conclude that we were out of the woods or that we had solved all the problems.”

“There are issues and challenges at Daisy Hill Hospital, and I am aware of them. I look to the trusts to work at resolving those issues and I am happy to make my own suggestions if I have them,” added the Minister.

Despite any such reassurances, a local spokesperson for socialist republican party, éirígí, said staff from Daisy Hill are increasingly worried about its longevity as it’s believed that Stormont may have taken a long term view to its closure, with shutdowns of critical services in the short term.

Speaking about recent claims made in a local paper stating that, as of 31st January 2016, the A&E at the hospital will be closed down and all ambulance calls will be directed to Craigavon Area Hospital,the éirígí spokesperson said the “flight” of staff from all levels within the hospital was happening as personnel try to secure longer term jobs in advance of any closure. “

“There is absolutely no reason for the Hospital or any of its services to close, except where there is a clear attempt to cut budgets and save some extra cash for the Stormont government – and that is what is happening in this instance, he added.

He said it was an irrefutable fact that the closure of Daisy Hill A&E will result in the loss of lives, as those from the Newry area in critical need of care are sent 25 miles further away, when faced with an emergency situation, whilst people from the Kilkeel area will face a 36 mile journey and asked local political parties responsible for the budget to confirm for the record that there is no intention to shut the Hospital or any of its services down.

“If this is in the pipeline, the DUP and Sinn Féin would know exactly how, when and why. Which begs the question: why the big secret? – Just how deep are Stormont cuts going to go with Daisy Hill? And what else do we not know?”

The Examiner asked the Southern Trust to respond to the renewed speculation that Daisy Hill Emergency Department was facing imminent closure or a reduction in opening hours.  Its spokesperson said there has been no further change to the position since the statement it issued at the start of this month admitting recruitment challenges but underlining the Trust’s commitment to a 24 hour, 7 days a week Emergency Department.

“If there are any developments or changes regarding the Emergency Department at Daisy Hill Hospital we will continue to ensure that the public and their representatives are kept informed of these,” added the Trust spokesperson.