Dungannon health campaigner hits out at ‘flawed’ consultation

Bronwyn McGahan MLA and Cllr Deirdre Varsani of Sinn Fein with local supporters of the campaign to retain Loane House in Dungannon
Bronwyn McGahan MLA and Cllr Deirdre Varsani of Sinn Fein with local supporters of the campaign to retain Loane House in Dungannon

A HEALTH campaigner who has devoted 20 years of her life to fighting for services to be retained at South Tyrone Hospital, has told how she will be reconsidering her position because of what she called a “flawed” consultation process which gives “false hope” to the local community.

In a hard-hitting interview with the TIMES, Ethne McCord, Chair of the South Tyrone Hospital Community Forum, said she feared decisions have already been taken about the future of the under-threat Loane House in Dungannon despite health chiefs announcing that the public will have a say on the issue.

The Southern Health Trust has formally launched a proposal to close the unit, which offers in-patient rehabilitation services to the elderly and vulnerable on the South Tyrone Hospital site.

A public consultation on the proposal, which would see the service move to Daisy Hill and Craigavon Hospitals, will run until October.

However, Ethne McCord, who has campaigned on behalf of the South Tyrone Hospital Community Forum for 20 years, believes the consultation process is “flawed”.

Mrs McCord continued: “Anothern major concern I have is that the views of our local elected representatives in the last 20 years have really been cast aside so easily and I feel that this is an assault on democracy.”

The respected local health campaigner called for the “powers that be, at the highest level” to look at the issues facing Loane House and see whether a solution can be found.

Speaking after a meeting at which she told members of the Forum that she wished to stand down from her role, Mrs McCord said she had been persuaded to stay on in the position following unanimous support for her to do so.

The meeting was also attended by around 12 local politicians representing all parties and there was “universal” support for the Loane House service to be retained.

“I would like to think that the politicians would be listened to because after all they are the voice of the people”, Mrs McCord continued.

“I would also be concerned that there seems to be a bias within this Trust area and that year after year we see more of our services being consolidated in the Craigavon and Newry and Mourne area.

“While we expected there was to be a threat to stroke services at South Tyrone, we certainly were very taken aback to find out there that the Southern Trust was intent on taking all in-patient beds away from Loane House.

“This is a service upon which so many of our elderly rely and indeed today our local councillors and MLAs were outraged that this was going to happen.”

More than 6,000 people have signed a petition demanding that the Loane House unit be kept open.