Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry will close temporarily from Saturday to help deal with the growing Covid-19 pandemic.
Newry and Armagh MP Mickey Brady, speaking alongside Chris Hazzard MP and Liz Kimmins MLA, said the announcement had been made by the Southern Trust.
Mr Brady said: “The Southern Trust have announced that Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry will be repurposed during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“As a result the A&E department at the hospital will be closed to walk-in patients in order to maintain a sterile facility to help fight this public health emergency.
“It will be used for non COVID-19 cases only and positive cases will be treated elsewhere.
“This is a necessary step in order to help keep the local population safe and I would appeal to the public to follow the guidelines around using the hospital.
“Local people need assurances, however, about the future of Daisy Hill Hospital, and guarantees that it will fully reopen after this emergency.
“Rather than create unnecessary uncertainty in these challenging times, the Trust should clearly indicate that Daisy Hill Accident & Emergency Services will return as soon as possible
“We will remain in contact with the hospital and the Department of Health and keep people updated on the latest developments with the hospital during this crisis.”
A Southern Trust spokesperson said they will be making changes to hospital services in anticipation of an increase in patients with COVID-19 in hospital.
Interim director of acute hospitals, Mel McClements said: “To ensure the safety of staff and patients, we have taken the essential decision to run one Emergency Department, which will be at Craigavon Area Hospital.
“This means a temporary closure of Daisy Hill’s Emergency Department, effective from 2pm on Saturday March 28th, 2020.
“This is not a decision we have taken lightly, but these are exceptional circumstances. This move allows us to consolidate our emergency, intensive care and respiratory expertise all one site which will give us a much more robust service in the weeks ahead.
“If we don’t work make these changes now, we risk services on both sites collapsing as we expect staffing levels to be impacted in weeks to come.
“Other services will continue. Some planned surgical work will be moving from Craigavon to Daisy Hill.
“Maternity services will be continuing on both sites, although some routine/low risk patients may have their care transferred to Daisy Hill. Patients affected by these changes will be contacted directly.
“Daisy Hill Hospital Emergency Department is a key part of our service provision. This is a temporary measure to deal specifically with Covid-19. Please be assured that this service will re-open once the immediate situation improves. In the meantime, please stay at home, wash your hands, keep your distance.”
The confirmation came as the next phase of emergency health service planning for the coronavirus surge has been detailed by the Department of Health.
The plans include prioritisation of patient care, reconfiguration of hospital services, urgent discharge of all medically fit patients, and an end to general hospital visiting – with very limited exceptions.
Trusts will also be maximising and utilising all spare capacity in residential, nursing and domiciliary care.
The plans are detailed in a letter to Trust chief executives from the Department’s Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly.
Mr Pengelly’s letter to colleagues states: “Our health and social care system has never been more needed nor more under pressure than it is today. Right across our system, from top to bottom, people are shouldering this burden and doing all they can to prepare services for the full impact of Covid-19.
“In that context, I want to start by putting on record my deep gratitude to you and everyone in your teams for the determination, commitment and energy being brought to this daunting task. I hope you all draw strength from the incredible public support that is evident for our health service and all those who work in it.”
The letter acknowledges: “Even if the social distancing measures have the impact we hope, our modelling still indicates that we will require more critical care capacity than is currently available.”
Trusts had already moved to postpone all non-urgent elective appointments in order to free up staff for additional training.
The next stage – in the event of the Covid-19 pandemic moving into different phases – will involve further measures to concentrate resources on essential patient care.
“In some cases, it is recognised that this may mean that other services are temporarily reduced as the focus is on providing essential services and helping those most at risk access the best possible treatment.
“It is therefore suggested that clinicians should begin to categorise patients into priority groups. The lowest prioritisation would be where treatment can be delayed for 2-3 months with no predicted negative outcome. Urgent and emergency treatments should continue to be given top priority.”
Issues also dealt with in the letter include provision of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), supply of ventilators and other respiratory equipment, Covid-19 testing, and staff accommodation.
“For those staff affected by the 14-day household isolation policy, staff should – on an entirely voluntary basis – be offered the alternative option of staying in hotel accommodation while they continue to work. This should be organised locally by HSC Trusts.”