A letter from Health Minister Jim Wells over concerns raised about the closure of Armagh’s Minor Injuries Unit does not inspire confidence that the Tower Hill facility will ever re-open.
There was outrage in the city and district last autumn when it was announced that the unit was to be shut from November.
The closure was cited as being temporary and the MIU should be open again at the end of March.
But fears had been there all along, with local councillors and MLAs expressing concerns that, were the closure to proceed in November, then that would be it for the city MIU.
Now the letter from the Minister, explaining the rationale behind the move, indicates that the levels of use were never sufficient for operating an MIU “sufficiently and sustainably” and, despite a publicity campaign, failed to increase.
Having announced the closure of three MIUs in the Province, the decision to temporarily shut the Bangor operation was later overturned upon Ministerial intervention.
It led to demands that a similar action be taken in Armagh, as it had been claimed that the closure would actually only save £50,000 towards the Department of Health’s needs to balance the books.
Armagh City and District Council had been angered at the decision and vowed to fight; legal opinions were to be sought.
And a letter of concern was forwarded on to Health Minister Jim Wells in mid-December, asking him to overturn the decision and reconsider.
It took 35 days to reply but reply he did.
But his words do not, as had previously been feared by councillors, unions and locals, give cause for hope.
The tone of the letter – delivered to Armagh City and District Council chief executive John Briggs and seen by Armagh I – is not brimming with optimism for Tower Hill’s return.
Mr Wells states:
“While it is regrettable that the Armagh Minor Injuries Unit had to close temporarily, the average number of patients using the MIU is four per hour.
“The average number of people using the nearby MIU at South Tyrone Hospital is seven or eight per hour and the Southern Health and Social Care Trust considers this to be the number of patients required to operate an MIU efficiently and sustainably.
“In recent years the Trust has invested considerable time and resources to making local people aware of the minor injuries service in Armagh, including a publicity campaign involving the local Council.
“However, patient demands for the MIU in Armagh failed to increase.
“People in the Armagh area who would have normally used the Armagh service continue to have access to a minor injuries service at South Tyrone Hospital, Dungannon.
“Alternatively, they can access care at the emergency departments at Craigavon Area and Daisy Hill Hospitals.
“As I have previously stated, given the scale of the financial challenge I face, it will simply not be possible to maintain current levels of service in the absence of all the required funding.
“My priorities are to ensure that the services provided by Health and Social Care (HSC) are safe and effective and that my department achieves financial balance, as is required of all Ministers.
“In order to achieve financial break even, each Health and Social Care Trust has produced a wide range of contingency plans and provided assurances that their services will remain safe and effective.
“I have had to make difficult choices in allocating resources and determining the measures needed to secure break even.
“The decisions taken by the HSC Trusts reflect what is achievable in maintaining safety and minimising costs between now and the end of the financial year.”
It would be expected that an announcement should be made within the coming weeks, as the date for an end of the ‘temporary’ closure is just six weeks away.
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