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Politicians leave Stormont meeting convinced breast cancer and stroke service cuts ‘a done deal’

'We must have clinical support in substantiating our argument so backing of hospital consultants, doctors and local GPs will be key to our opposition to the current proposals'

Breast Cancer Centre Craigavon Hospital

Politicians have left a meeting at Stormont convinced that proposals to close the Craigavon breast assessment unit and stroke unit at Daisy Hill are, put simply, a “done deal”.

And they believe that no amount of public opposition will sway the thinking of the powers-that-be.

It is a situation which has been branded “absolute madness”.

A cross-party delegation met with Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride and the Director of Hospital Services Reform, Alastair Campbell.

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty, accompanied by party health spokesperson Mark H Durkan, were among those to attend the Stormont discussion.

He said he had been prepared prior to believe that the decision-makers were open to change but feels now this is not the case.

Said Mr McNulty: “Before the meeting I was deeply concerned that this appears to be a done deal and, to be frank, I haven’t changed my mind in this regard now that the meeting has concluded.

“Officials were quite clear that no matter the amount or volume of opposition to the proposals, they will be guided only by compelling medical evidence.

“I have no problem with this, but surely if you withdraw a service from hundreds of thousands of people across Newry, South Down, South Armagh and Armagh then there will be clinical consequences. That consequence to me appears clear – people’s lives are being put at risk.”

Breast cancer assessment units here would be cut from five to three, with Craigavon and Belfast City Hospital units to close.

And for stroke services, none of the options for ‘reshaping’ the service include Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry.

Mr McNulty spoke of his fears and accused those who had brought the proposals of not giving proper consideration to those living locally in rural areas, insisting they would impact upon the people of Newry, South Armagh and South Down the most.

“It will put lives at risk and will be opposed right across our community,” he added. “As the only local Assembly Member in attendance, I couldn’t have been more forthright or clear in conveying the concerns of our community to the officials in attendance.

“If you live in Jonesborough, Crossmaglen, Keady or Kilkeel you’ll know the length of time it takes for an ambulance to get from Craigavon or Newry in the first instance, not to mention the travel time for getting a patient back to hospital.

“If you have suffered a suspected stroke every second is vital to making a full recovery. These proposals could see an ambulance drive past an outstanding hospital in Newry to drive to Craigavon.

“Any change to breast cancer assessment services will have an equally negative impact locally.  The proposals will see one of the most clinically advanced services at Craigavon move to Antrim.

“It will see the merger of two of the busiest breast cancer assessment units in the north to one site and our fear is that the full suite of breast cancer services will then follow in terms of surgery and follow up services.

“In this instance, clinical experts have recommended retaining Craigavon Breast Cancer Assessment Unit, but the Department has ignored those recommendations.

“These proposals are madness and they must be withdrawn. This community must continue to work together to oppose these plans.

“We must have the clinical support in substantiating our argument so the backing of hospital consultants, doctors and local GPs will be key to our opposition to the current proposals.”

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