Health officials are coming under increasing pressure to act to secure the future of the emergency department at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry.
The Trust Board announced last week that it was facing an uncertain future and could be further downgraded.
A week after that announcement and Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady will lead a party delegation to discuss the ongoing situation.
It comes after a similar SDLP delegation had also argued for its retention.
Mr Brady, speaking in advance of today’s meeting, said: “The proposals by the Southern Trust in relation to the Emergency Department at Daisy Hill, flies in the face of the commitment from former Health Minister Michelle O’Neill who announced after a recent visit to the hospital, that Daisy Hill would be a key part of the acute hospital infrastructure.
“The Trust have serious questions to answer, in particular how they have reached a different conclusion about the sustainability of Emergency Department services to that by the former Health Minister, and also how they have by this action, effectively undermined the efforts of all, staff, political representatives, the community and voluntary sector who have worked together to ensure that Daisy Hill remains an acute hospital.”
On Tuesday, the SDLP MLA Justin McNulty was joined by South Down MLA Sinead Bradley and Councillors Pete Byrne and Kate Loughran during a meeting with the Trust.
He said afterwards: “The future of the Emergency Department at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry is on the line. We now need to see an urgent response from the Department of Health to safeguard its very future.
“Daisy Hill is an acute hospital and it must remain so. To do so, it must retain its 24/7 Emergency Department and all the support services that come with that status, including radiology services. It seems like a battle a day as the people of Newry, Mourne and South Armagh fight to retain basic health and social care services in this community. This community demands and deserves as much from their health services as those in Craigavon or Belfast.
“We pressed the Acting Chief Executive and his team on the very real concerns in the community about the future of the Emergency Department at Daisy Hill. I have met with the Trust on this very issue on a number of occasions now and the answers remain the same. It is a workforce issue and they have made numerous efforts to recruit the appropriately qualified staff, including offering enhanced packages with recruitment exercises on a global level.
“Whilst I do appreciate the efforts the Southern Trust have been making in this regard, this is a much bigger issue than the Southern Trust, this is a regional problem and can only be resolved with a regional solution.
“Therefore, following the meeting and in the absence of a Health Minister, I have now sought an urgent meeting with the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health. He must put in place interim and then long term solutions to this issue. The solution must secure the Emergency Department at Daisy Hill 24/7.
“This situation is deeply concerning and unfortunately is nothing new. Year in year out political and community representatives have warned about the long-term future of the Emergency Department at Daisy Hill.
“The Emergency Department at Daisy Hill is an extremely important service for the people of Newry, Mourne and South Armagh and we will not accept a second class service. We are all too aware of how the ‘temporary’ closure of Belfast City Hospital’s Emergency Department became permanent, again due to staffing issues.
“We will continue to work with the Trust in seeking a permanent solution to this problem. The only solution the SDLP will accept is a permanent and safe service, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at Daisy Hill.”
South Down Assembly Member Sinead Bradley added: “The meeting was constructive in that there was much straight taking regarding the problems of recruitment and workforce planning. There was no ambiguity in the SDLP position, in that closure of any services at Daisy Hill Accident and Emergency will not be accepted.”