Local politicians have demanded the reopening of the minor injuries unit in Armagh after Health Minister Jim Wells on Friday reversed the decision over the temporary closure of the Bangor unit.
Three minor injuries unit were earmarked for closure – Armagh, Bangor and Whiteabbey – with the city-based unit closing earlier in November.
Now politicians say that if the argument that the Bangor unit would only make minimal savings on the grand scheme of things then the same should apply to Armagh.
SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon told Armagh I that he has called on Health Minister Jim Wells to intervene and have the Minor Injuries Unit in Armagh re-instated as a matter of urgency following his U-turn over a similar facility in Bangor and to ensure that all services and patients are treated in a fair and equitable basis.
Councillor O’Hanlon, speaking ahead of tonight’s council meeting, said: “As part of the current funding crises in our Health Services the Minister agreed the closure of three Minor Injuries across Northern Ireland, in addition to Armagh the other facilities at Whiteabbey and Bangor were also marked for closure and yet under political and community pressure the Minister for Health did a u-turn and has opted to keep the facility at Bangor open.
“Well if it’s good enough for the people of Bangor, then the Minister must treat the people of Armagh with the same degree of equality or he could be on very shaky grounds.
“But this isn’t the Minister’s only u-turn, he implemented these cuts without any public consultation and yet again under pressure from the local community, the Minister has launched an eight week consultation on the proposed closure of Dalriada Multiple Sclerosis unit.
“The Minister has set a very clear precedent and I will ask council officials to write to him and seek the same equal and fair treatment for Armagh.
“When the unilateral closure of the Minor Injuries Unit in Armagh was announced, SDLP Assembly Member Dominic Bradley MLA and myself met with the Chief Executive of the Southern Trust Mairead McAlinden and when we pushed her to explain the savings she expected to make it became clear that the ‘temporary’ closure would save only £40-50k between now and the end of the financial year.
“My genuine fear is that, in the current funding climate, the Southern Trust will take the closure of Armagh for granted and we will lose this service for good.
“I have asked that an urgent letter is sent to the Minister for Health demanding that the Service in Armagh is retained. Only today we learn that the Health Service is set to potentially get an extra £41m from the London Treasury, £40k is an extremely small portion of this and it must be used to save the Minor Injuries Unit in Armagh.”
Newry and Armagh MLA Cathal Boylan has backed calls for the Health Minister to reverse the decision by the Southern Health Trust to close the Armagh unit.
The MLA stated: “The Minister has reversed the decision to close Bangor minor injuries unit, that I am sure will be welcomed by the communities of that area who use the vital facility.
“The Minister reversed his decision on the grounds that he was ‘mindful that the winter months place greater demands on A&E units and acute hospitals’, and he stated that he wished to avoid where possible adding to the numbers coming through the front door of these emergency departments.
“The Health Minister also pointed out that Bangor minor injuries unit deals with about 10,000 attendances annually, and its closure would have offered up only minimal financial savings.
“There is no doubt that for these same reasons the decision to close the Armagh minor I]injuries unit should be reversed. This is what I expect the Health Minister to now do.
“It appears to many that health and care facilities and units in the Armagh area have repeatedly borne the brunt of the Trust’s cuts. Many feel that it seems as though, when difficult decisions are required, we are the first name on the shortlist.”
His colleague Mickey Brady MLA, who sits on the Assembly Health Committee, said that he would be contacting the Minister requesting that he reverses the decision to close the minor injuries unit in Armagh.
He said: “At the time the decision was announced Sinn Féin described the ‘temporary closure’ of the minor injuries unit as ‘extremely premature, bewildering and disheartening’.
“The measure of this facility’s importance to the health, wellbeing and safety of our community cannot be understated or, indeed, glossed over in a comparison exercise with other facilities.
“Thousands of people use and rely on the MIU service each year. We see it as a health priority and value for money in this challenging time for all departments and public services.
“In the grand scheme of things, the costs to be saved by axing the Armagh MIU are relatively modest indeed. On the other hand, however, the human cost of the inconvenience and pain to local families, who will have to travel many additional miles to access basic medical treatments in an emergency situation, is severe.”
Local Independent Unionist Councillor Paul Berry also demanded an about turn over Armagh.
He told Armagh I: “The decision by the Trust to temporarily close the MIU in Armagh was very disappointing news and I along with fellow councillors call for this decision to be reversed.
“I was interested to read in the regional press that Minister Wells reversed the Bangor MIU decision due to ‘people power’, this I believe was very unfair and unjust to Armagh and other areas.
“It seems if there are cuts to be made then all focus is on the Armagh health provision and the community is understandably very angry about such treatment.”
Health Minister Jim Wells, in explaning his decision to retain the Bangor unit on Friday, had said: “The Health and Social Care Trusts have been in the unenviable position of trying to find substantial savings within a very short timeframe. Many of the proposals they brought forward in contingency plans are challenging and indeed some counter-strategic.
“I am however mindful that the winter months place greater demands on our emergency departments and acute hospitals. I have been considering carefully over recent days the activity levels of smaller hospitals and the assistance they offer the larger acute sites during busy periods.
“A significant amount of work has taken place regionally to strengthen performance at our emergency departments, and I wish to avoid where possible adding to the numbers coming through the front door of these emergency departments.
“I have asked the South Eastern Trust to ensure the minor injuries unit at Bangor Hospital remains open. This will lessen the numbers attending other units, including the busy Ulster Hospital Emergency Department.
“Bangor minor injuries unit deals with about 10,000 attendances annually and its closure would have offered up only minimal financial savings.
The Minister added that he has asked the Trust to keep the option of access to beds at the Bangor site under constant review.
He said: “The South Eastern Trust has a range of intermediate care options available, but clearly if additional capacity is required in the future, reinstating beds in Bangor is one option which could be considered.”
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