Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Up to 20,000 march to save Stroke Unit

An estimated twenty thousand people crammed the streets of Newry on Saturday in a mass rally calling for the retention of the Acute Stroke Unit facility at Daisy Hill Hospital.

Political parties, trades unions, community associations, hospital staff, as well as stroke survivors and their families joined the people of Newry and Mourne in sending a clear message to the Southern Trust of total opposition to any reduction of services to the care of stroke patients.

Mayor Daire Hughes and Council Chief Executive Eddie Curtis thanked those who had assembled in Marcus Square for turning up in such huge numbers to make the voices of the entire district heard.

The swelling throng of protesters then made its way along the Mall towards Monaghan Street and on to the gates of Daisy Hill, led by the Mayor, Mr Curtis and the Council’s Investing in Health Officer Aisling Rennick, all brandishing the now familiar Save Daisy Hill Stroke Services banner.

The strength of feeling on the ground was palpable and the sense of anger and injustice at the Southern Trust’s proposed centralisation of stroke services at Craigavon Area Hospital was felt and voiced by everyone.

“Nobody knows when they might need the Stroke Unit,” one woman told The Examiner.

“Young or old – stroke is indiscriminate so the issue affects every one of us.  We can’t allow this closure to happen!”

Another demonstrator shared the experiences of her friend who had suffered a stroke in her early thirties and “wouldn’t have survived had it not been for the standard of care she received in Daisy Hill.”

“I’m marching for her and others like her. There is no need to transfer the unit from the centre of excellence we have in Newry and lives are going to put at risk if it happens,” she added.

Among the crowd were Daisy Hill Hospital staff. One staff member spoke to The Examiner about the “low morale” among hospital staff as they witness “yet more decimation of services in Daisy Hill.”

She said it was important to take to the streets in such a show of opposition as the Stroke Unit proposals were “just the latest in the chipping away of services in Daisy Hill that has been happening in the last few years, right under people’s noses but they are not aware of it.”

“The closure of the Stroke Unit will have a wide knock-on effect as people are going to lose their jobs.  Morale is already suffering among lower band staff who live in fear of losing our jobs as it is.  This affects everyone from stroke patients to staff members and it has to be stopped.”

Others spoke of how rural people would be affected with ambulance waiting times “already too long” and questioned questioned how rural stroke patients would survive the effects of a stroke with an extended journey to Craigavon.

From the vantage point of Daisy Hill Hospital, where the rally made its final ascent, the vast turnout could be truly appreciated as a sea of people and banners stretched out as far as the eye could see, along Monaghan street and beyond to the Canal bridge.

As the entire community united in solidarity to save stroke services at their local hospital, the event culminated with Mayor Daire Hughes handing over a letter of opposition and a petition at the gates of Daisy Hill sending out the stark and clear message to the Southern Trust that their decision to transfer the city’s Stroke Unit would not go unchallenged.