Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Unite calls for mass turnout to further Stroke Unit protests despite Wells’ – ‘no reversal’ pledge

Unite Community Newry are calling on all interested parties and concerned members of the public to join them in further protests against the centralisation of stroke unit services to Craigavon Area Hospital.

The group are responding to Health Minister Jim Wells’ announcement last week, where he emphatically reiterated that he would not be forced into reversing his decision to close the stroke unit despite continued lobbying or the 8,000 strong rally which took place in Newry at the end of last month.

The Unite community branch are organising simultaneous protests at Mr Wells’s office in Kilkeel and the Southern Trust headquarters in Portadown on Saturday 25th April.

In a statement released on the group’s Facebook page, Unite community coordinator Martin McKeown said the Minister was “ignoring” the wishes of thousands of people and he refuted Mr Wells’ claims that a report had showed stroke victims will have a 25% better chance of surviving  a stroke if treated in a specialised unit. Mr McKeown questioned how this could be so when a stroke victim would have to make “a long arduous journey over bumpy windy country roads”  and asked how rural dwellers were expected to get to Craigavon within the “golden hour” following a stroke.

Speaking about the public backlash to the plans to relocate the stroke unit,  the Health Minister claimed last week that there was “overwhelming evidence” from health experts that the relocation of stroke services to a centralised unit in Craigavon Area Hospital  will lead to improved survival and recovery rates for stroke patients.

Mr Wells admitted the decision was unpopular with the general public but said the move had the full backing of not only the Southern Trust but the Royal College of Surgeons and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence as well leading stroke charity , NI Chest, Heart and Stroke (NICHS).

Chief Executive of NI Chest Heart and Stroke, Andrew Dougal revealed that the charity had sought advice from medical experts and health professionals on the issue and that, according to clinical evidence, the relocation of the stroke unit would lead to an enhanced level of care for stroke patients,  including improved survival and recovery rates.

Unite Community Newry argue that the decision is going to “cost lives or at the very least contribute to extra paralysis” to the stroke victim.”

Meanwhile Minister Wells was adamant that the stance on the stroke service move would remain unchanged,

“What I don’t want people to continue thinking is that if they continue to lobby, there will be change – there will be no change,” he said.

Determined to fight the decision head-on, Unite are rallying the community to get behind the Save Our Stroke Unit campaign again so that the Newry demonstration is remembered as the catalyst that “inspired a community to stand as one and say enough is enough!”

Free transport will be provided and will leave the Fiveways at 1pm on Saturday 25th April.  (contact the Unite Facebook page to avail of a seat on one of the buses.)  Unite have also called on  interested parties such as Newry, Mourne and Down Council, other Unions, community associations, youth groups and political leaders to also organise free transport to ensure good numbers on the day.

“It may be easy for them to ignore us from afar, but they can’t ignore us if we are camped on their doorsteps!” added the Unite spokesperson.