Mid closures didn’t save money

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RUNNING down services at the Mid Ulster Hospital cost the health service money, according to recently appointed minister Edwin Poots

He said the decision to remove services in Magherafelt saved ‘no money whatsoever’ and indeed cost extra.

And he further dampened hopes of a return of acute services. “I am prepared to look at how we can best meet the needs of the people of mid-Ulster into the future, although I suspect that that will not involve the reinstatement of services at the Mid-Ulster Hospital.

“It actually cost us money because an additional £875,000 was given to the Ambulance Service to provide further services. Therefore, it was not a money-saving exercise. It was something that the Northern Trust did because it believed that there would be better clinical outcomes,” said Mr Poots.

During a debate at Stormont on the Minor Injuries Unit at Mid Ulster Hospital concern was raised by MLAs at the downgrading of the hospital plus the fact that Antrim Area Hospital was finding it difficult to cope.

Last year the then minister decided to close the A&E department at the Mid leaving it with a minor injuries unit which is only open between 9-5 Monday to Friday.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone, at Stormont this week, spoke of how he was fobbed off by the previous health minister Michael McGimpsey on this issue and called for a meeting with the current meeting with Mr Poots.

“We have a situation in which Antrim Area Hospital is under serious pressure. Patients turn up at Magherafelt to a minor injuries unit that cannot and does not serve them. Having been referred there, the Mid-Ulster Hospital has to refer them back up the road to Antrim.

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“We have inadequate ambulance cover. A huge, scattered rural area is not being provided with services that other areas, be it Derry or Belfast, take for granted. I am sure that people there have their concerns about shortcomings in those areas.”

Sinn Fein MLA Francie Molloy said: “So many units have been piled into Antrim Area Hospital that it is overloaded and its facilities are being diluted. We were told that the service would cover 70% of the patients who had presented at the Mid-Ulster A&E department and the remainder would be catered for in Antrim Area Hospital.

“Antrim Area Hospital did not get its new build, just as people had predicted. Now, it is proposed to put Portakabins in place to try to accommodate the influx of new patients,” said Mr Molloy.

“The whole hospital provision is being eroded, downgraded and declared unsafe. Departments are then closed. Over time, the hospital’s acute services have been run down. We have seen a gradual push, which is making Antrim Area Hospital unworkable and pushing it towards breaking point.”

DUP MLA Ian McCrea: “It was suggested (by the previous health minister) that money was not the reason why the A&E at the Mid-Ulster Hospital was closed. It is important that we clarify that the acute services were removed because of so-called health and safety issues, not because of the funding.

“The difficulty that the people of mid-Ulster have is that there is not an appropriate level of service to cope with their needs. The important issue is to get back some trust in the trust for the people of mid-Ulster.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Sandra Overend: “There is a fear right across mid-Ulster that, should they need emergency services, people will not have time to receive the care that they need, either because they will not make it to Antrim Area Hospital on time or because, when they do get there, there will be huge delays before they can access help. It is the Minister’s responsibility to restore confidence to the people of mid-Ulster and to consider better ways of delivering a first-class Health Service to my rural constituents.

Minister Poots said: “We have to recognise that there has been a run-down of services at the Mid-Ulster Hospital and that it will be very difficult to get those services back. In respect of reorganising things across Northern Ireland and the Northern Trust, we have to look at the Mid-Ulster Hospital, the revision, and how it can best fit into that future to ensure that the people in that area receive equity of treatment.

He said there was a short term contingency plan to add 14 temporary beds by November 2011 and 24 medical beds costing £5m completed by the end of 2012.

Antrim will also get a new £9m emergency department in 2013 to cater for 90,000 people per year.

“That is not about saving money; it is about saving lives. It is important that segregation take place among those conditions and the minor injuries and those conditions where others can be served. We need to look at provision in the Mid-Ulster Hospital, its timing and what is appropriate.

“The decision to remove services in the Mid-Ulster Hospital saved the Department of Health no money whatsoever. It actually cost us money because an additional £875,000 was given to the Ambulance Service to provide further services. Therefore, it was not a money-saving exercise. It was something that the Northern Trust did because it believed that there would be better clinical outcomes,” said Minister Poots.