Health chief denies Mid Ulster ‘hub’ to lose hospital status

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HEALTH chief Sean Donaghy has denied the Mid Ulster Hospital is to lose its hospital status.

“At the minute it is a hospital and we have no plans to change its status,” said Mr Donaghy, who is chief executive of the Northern Health Trust said:

Speaking exclusively to the Mid Ulster Mail, Mr Donaghy referred to the Magherafelt hospital as a ‘health and social care campus’ and a ‘hub’.

When asked directly if other wards at the Mid are to close, he said: “No. No beds closing, none at all.

And he continued: “The changes that came about at the Mid, came about in a way that we would not have wished. We would see the Mid as having a really strong future as a health and social care campus, as a hub for Magherafelt.

“At the minute it is a hospital and we have no plans to change its status. We would like to see more things happen on that site, that we would make better use of the accommodation we have there,” he said.

“We will think about how to do that and we will come out and talk to the public in Magherafelt and the media and others about what plans we put in place and how those plans could be improved and if local people have ideas about how it could be improved upon.

“Whether there are local services that could operate off that site.

“We would very much see that site as one that would develop over time and would concentrate more services on - but no, it won’t go back to being an acute hospital,” said Mr Donaghy.

Just over a year ago, the Accident and Emergency department at the Magherafelt hospital closed causing uproar in the Mid Ulster area.

A massive campaign began to reinstate the services however despite the public outcry, the Mid Ulster Hospital no longer has a casualty service - though it does have a minor injuries unit.

Mr Donaghy said the reason for its closure was the lack of doctors and the need to provide ‘safe’ services. He said to do that it is better ‘to concentrate expertise in one place’.

“To lose a local service is tough and tough for local staff who have worked there for a lifetime,” said the Chief Executive.

“But the bald truth of it is the Mid as in other small hospitals it was a struggle to get the minimum safe levels of staffing that you need to have in a hospital.

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“For a hospital to run a medical service or surgical service safely is a minimum of three 24/7 doctors seven days a week.

“If we are going to have a service we must be sure it’s safe.

“It was that challenge that saw the decision to move services from the Mid to Antrim.

“We couldn’t meet that challenge. Not because we weren’t willing to put the money on it but because there weren’t enough doctors in Northern Ireland to go round.

“Yes there would have been doctors but not enough to have a robust sustainable service at the Mid,” said Mr Donaghy.

When asked if there would be cutbacks in doctors and nurses and staff on the front line, he replied: “We will always be changing. Some people will seize on one aspect of change and say, I can see a down there but we will have increased services elsewhere.

“Unless we amend how we deliver our services which will mean less of some things and more of others.

“If people focus on the less part, there will be evidence of that - but overall will we be reducing the level of services? No. We will be increasing the level of services over time.

“We are clear as to how we will manage our funds so that will allow us to break even this year. We will do that without making significant changes in the numbers of people we employ in the Trust,” said Mr Donaghy.

When asked what he meant by significant changes he said: “I think we will be employing roughly the same number. We will not see a large chunk of people displaced or moved.”

When asked if there would be a reduction at senior management level, Mr Donaghy said there had already been a significant reduction four years ago. “We are continuing to reduce costs in that area.”

The Chief Executive spoke to the Mid Ulster Mail about a wide variety of issues affecting the area.

He said the last year was ‘tough’ and this forthcoming year would be tough too.

He expects to put forward wide ranging changes in order to balance the books and provide a health and social care service to the Northern Trust.