Fears for the future of Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry have been voiced on the floor of the Assembly today (Tuesday).
But there was palpable anger among local MLAs that the Health Minister Simon Hamilton was not there to hear the debate.
Both the SDLP’s Dominic Bradley and Sinn Fein’s Megan Fearon voiced fears over the situation at Daisy Hill, praising the hospital and staff but warning of the dire situation which exists.
Ulster Unionist MLA Adrian Cochrane-Watson also said Daisy Hill was “very highly” thought of within the local community.
Mr Bradley led the debate on the future of the Emergency Department at the Newry hospital.
Opening the debate, Mr Bradley said: “Daisy Hill Hospital is an outstanding hospital; it is one of the finest hospitals on this island and I want to begin today by placing on record my sincere thanks and appreciation to all the dedicated staff in the hospital for their care, compassion and professionalism as they care for the thousands of patients who pass through the hospital each year.
“I do that on my own behalf and the people of Newry and South Armagh.
“Daisy Hill is one of two acute hospitals in the Southern Trust area, the other being at Craigavon and, in raising this issue here today, I do not want to pitch one acute hospital against another. I fundamentally believe we need both hospitals and we need to see sustained investment on both sites.
“However over recent years there has been a tendency to withdraw services from Daisy Hill and relocate them at Craigavon Area Hospital, the most recent decision being to relocate Newry’s Stroke Unit to Craigavon.
“This I believe was a wrong decision. I am on record in this house in saying so and can only reiterate the concern and anger within the community in Newry and South Armagh of that decision.”
Mr Bradley – in raising the issue of the future of the emergency department – said he was “bitterly disappointed that we have no Health Minister to listen to or take part in the discussion here today”.
“The Minister’s ‘here today gone tomorrow’ attitude is playing fast and loose with our Health Service and with people’s lives.
“Our Health Service is under great strain, and I don’t have to leave my constituency to see that for myself. I have already referred to the decision to withdraw Stroke Services from Newry to Craigavon, but in South Armagh we have extremely poor ambulance response times to the extent we have a new First Responders Scheme developed by the local community in Crossmaglen and I commend all involved in this initiative.
“GPs across South Armagh are under tremendous pressure and in Armagh City the Trust proposes to permanently close the Minor injuries Unit.
“These may all be different parts of our Health Service yet, taken together, the picture they paint is not a very good one.
“In fact taking these other issues together, no wonder the emergency department in Daisy Hill is under so much stress.”
The SDLP representative said demand on the emergency department at Daisy Hill last year increased by 10%.
He continued: “Numbers presenting to the service are increasing, people are waiting longer to be seen and the Trust is struggling to recruit the staff required to maintain the unit 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“There are real and genuine concerns among hospital staff and in the community at large that this could lead to reduced operating hours.”
Mr Bradley said the Trust had already engaged in recruitment exercise after recruitment exercise, on some 16 separate occasions, and “yet they have failed to fill the staffing complement required at middle grade and consultant emergency medical staff level”.
He added: “I have met with the Acting Chief Executive Paula Clarke and her predecessor Mairead McAlinden and their executive teams on this issue and I appreciate the efforts they are making to address this problem, but the Department and the Minister, when he comes back, need to act.
“They must do more to support this service and to support Daisy Hill.”
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