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Closure approved for Armagh’s Gillis unit for dementia

The Gillis Unit in Armagh – the local in-patient for unit for dementia sufferers – is to close.

The move was rubberstamped at a meeting of the Southern Trust Board today (Thursday), and came after a period of public consultation which concluded at the end of October.

News of the loss of the unit will be greeted with great dismay and sadness in the local community.

Gillis, which is based out of Mullinure Hospital, off the Loughgall Road, recently won an award for its exceptional standards.

But the impending axe, which many had feared, fell today.

The changes will not take effect immediately and could take up to three years to be put in place.

It was one of a number of proposals relating to the future of stroke care, hospital services for older people and dementia inpatient care across the Southern Trust area.

The plan will be to built a new in-patient dementia unit at Craigavon and, when that’s in place, close Gillis.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow for the people of Armagh, who will see it as a further denuding of local health services.

Earlier this month the minor injuries unit at Tower Hill closed on what was described as a ‘temporary’ basis until next March, but local politicians are sceptical and fear it will not reopen.

Also approved by Trust Board members today was the development of a single specialist stroke inpatient unit within the Southern Trust at Craigavon Area Hospital.

The plans will also see the locating of all non-acute inpatient services at Daisy Hill and Craigavon Hospitals, with the development of a new non-acute inpatient unit at Craigavon to replace inpatient services at Loane House, South Tyrone and Lurgan Hospital.

Commenting on the decision, Trust Chief Executive, Mairead McAlinden, said: “During our 20 week consultation period we met with many public representatives, organisations that advocate for service users, partner organisations and staff from across the Trust and we listened carefully to their views on our proposals.

“We received over 150 direct responses and a petition with over 8,000 signatures, and we have considered all the points made in these written proposals alongside the views expressed in our face to face meetings.

“I hope that these detailed discussions, together with the Trust’s written response to the issues raised over the course of the consultation period, will assure people that the Trust is focused on providing better care in a way that we can sustain into the future.”

Trust Chair Roberta Brownlee added: “I am extremely grateful to everyone who took the time to meet with us and to respond to the consultation paper.

“All responses were fully considered and the key issues discussed by the Trust Board before reaching a final decision.

“Our plans set out a clear direction for how services must change in future if we are to maintain and develop hospital-based care that is of the highest quality, meets national standards and guidelines and meets the needs of the population we serve.

“Changes will not take place immediately – it has been clearly stated that implementation of our plans could take up to three years to put in place.

“We will continue to engage with users, carers, staff and our local community as we develop our implementation plans for these major developments which I believe are vital to ensuring quality health care in Southern Trust.”

Commenting on the news that The Gillis Unit in Armagh is to close, Lord Mayor of Armagh City and District Cllr Cathy Rafferty said it flew in the face of the pledge to lead the fight against dementia.

“This news is another blow to the City of Armagh and the provision of health care and support services to our local communities,” she said.

“Interestingly some time back Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron warned that a ‘big global push is needed to make up for years of underinvestment’ to tackle dementia, an illness that is costing the NHS, Social Services and the economy up to £21 billion a year.

“Closure of the Gillis Unit is not the answer. People with dementia and their carers need quality care and support, not the diluting of services under the guise of maintaining and developing hospital-based care which is of the highest standard. We must unite to stop this very focused attack on our local health facilities and services.”

Newry and Armagh MLA Mickey Brady had expressed his bitter disappointment at the announcement it has approved the development of a single specialist stroke inpatient unit within the Southern Trust at Craigavon Area Hospital.
The MLA said: “Proposals by the Trust to remove the specialist stroke inpatient Unit from Daisy Hill Hospital do not stack up. It is widely recognised that Daisy Hill in Newry has provided the best stroke service in the north. This is evidenced by the fact that in 2011/2012 the average length of stay for stroke patients at Daisy Hill was 17 days, whereas at Craigavon Hospital it was 47 days.

“On value for money alone and provision of service the Daisy Hill Unit delivers. The Trust should further invest in and develop the Stroke Unit in Daisy Hill which would result in the provision of increased rapid access to specialist investigation and treatment to all on a regional basis.”

His colleague, Newry and Mourne Councillor Mickey Larkin, echoed the sentiments.

“Sinn Féin wants to see the best possible outcomes for stroke patients following their hospital treatment,” he said.

“We have spoken to families whose loved ones have suffered strokes and they are telling us that the service provided at Daisy Hill was second to none.

“They have also said that this decision by the Southern Trust to move services to Craigavon will be extremely traumatic for stroke patients and make it unworkable for families to fully support their loved ones.”

The Sinn Féin representaive so concluded by stating that they intended to seek a meeting with senior Trust Officials to discuss the issues of concern.

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