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Inpatient addiction services to be axed at St Luke’s Hospital next week

Inpatient addiction services are to be axed from St Luke’s Hospital in Armagh – the latest in a series of potentially devastating body blows for the local health service.

The closure date decision was confirmed today (Thursday).

It comes off the back of the recent loss of the Gillis Unit for inpatient dementia care and the ‘temporary’ closure of the minor injuries unit at Tower Hill.

A spokesperson for the Trust has confirmed the move, which will take effect from this coming Monday, February 2.

Inpatient addiction services are to be relocated to Downpatrick.

The Trust says the focus now is more on community-based treatments with declining admissions.

It was last June that the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) approved the inpatient addiction services proposals, for a regional network with addiction treatment services accessible to the whole population of Northern Ireland.

HSCB led a public consultation on these proposals, which ran from October 4, 2013 to January 24, 2014.

The Trust spokesperson said: “The regional plan – providing for a 30-bed regional network of inpatient beds on three sites, Holywell, Antrim, Downshire, Downpatrick and one in the WHSCT – will ensure that more consistent and improved inpatient services are available for all Northern Ireland residents and specifically that, when required, those in need will have access to specialist inpatient (Tier 4) services on a seven days/nights per week basis.

“These tier 4/inpatient services will be augmented with enhanced community support. These plans were made in response to strong consultation responses from service users across the province and evidence that the majority of people with an addiction problem can be treated safely within the community (Tier 3) setting, without the need for admission to hospital or a specialist facility.

“The changes will mean inpatient addiction treatment services will cease (from February 2, 2015) at St Luke’s Hospital, Armagh, and be re-provided in the Downshire Hospital, Downpatrick.”The Southern Trust’s inpatient addiction unit at St Luke’s Hospital had 10 beds and opened four nights and five days a week, from Monday to Friday.

The spokesperson added: “The inpatient service provided rehabilitation, relapse/prevention, education and opiate substitution programmes and support groups.

“The number of patients admitted to the addictions unit at St Luke’s has diminished in recent years with more people able to be treated in the community, at outpatient clinics and with support from community and voluntary sector organisations.”The Community Addiction Team will remain at St Luke’s as a base and will continue to provide outreach clinics to all areas in the Southern Trust.

“The Trust will keep working with commissioners to seek to continue to develop and further enhance the Community Addiction Service as resources allow.”

Armagh City and District Sinn Féin Councillor Darren McNally is outraged at the move.

He told Armagh I: “Every seven hours in Ireland someone dies from an alcohol-related disease. The loss of an addiction rehabilitation residential service must be concerning, particularly for those individuals and families caught up in the vicious cycle of addiction.

“There is a sound argument to increase bed space for these type of services rather than reduce them.

“Residential based rehabilitation is viewed by many as an essential route to recovery for addicts. Community-based Addiction Teams have a role to play in tackling issues caused by alcohol and drug abuse, but for many at the extreme edge of addiction, the only way open to them to initiate recovery is to become a resident in an abstinence-based residential rehabilitation centre.

“Addiction services outcomes should focus on saving and changing lives, not saving money. If the services are effective, money – as well as lives of many – will be saved as a natural outcome”.

Meanwhile, his colleague Sinn Féin Newry and Armagh MLA Cathal Boylan, has said that news of the impending closure adds credence to the view held by many that Armagh City is gradually being deprived of much-needed jobs and services.

“This news, coming just after a notice of intention to close Armagh Courthouse, has to be seen as another blow to the city.

“Jobs will be lost, services will be lost, and collectively these closures will have a serious negative impact on businesses, who benefited from the services being situated in the city.

“Those businesses owners in this city who have invested their time and money in developing and ensuring the sustainability of their businesses must feel completely let down.”

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