Republican News · Thursday 19 August 1999

[An Phoblacht]

Campaign to save hospitals

ti-hospital closure campaigners attended a public meeting convened by the Southern Health Board at the Oklin House Hotel on Monday, 16 August, to discuss the closure of acute services at the South Tyrone Hospital in Dungannon.

Several hundred protesters also staged a protest outside, demanding the retention of acute services, including accident and emergency (A&E) and maternity departments.

British Health Minister John McFall made a decision on 9 July to ``temporarily'' close Dungannon's A&E department in two weeks and the main surgical and medical units a few weeks later, in addition to the maternity unit which was lost earlier this year. With the units being transferred to Craigavon Area Hospital.

According to UNISON, Public Service Union, this decision was taken in the absence of any risk assessment report from either the Armagh and Dungannon or the Craigavon Area Hospital Trusts.

Members of the South Tyrone Action Group claimed Craigavon Area hospital will be unable to cope with the pressure of additional patients and waiting time in its A&E department will rise dramatically.

In County Down, campaigners also staged a protest to save the new Down Hospital, outside the offices of Down District Council to coincide with a council debate giving the go-ahead for planning permission to down-grade the hospital. Campaigners demanded that councillors push for the provision of acute services in the new the 15 million hospital.

The campaign is spearheaded by three new groups, the Hearts of Down group, made up of mothers who use the maternity unit, and support groups from Ardglass and Killough.

The Sinn Féin Assembly Member for South Down, Mick Murphy has pledged his party's total support to the Heart of Down group.

He said: ``the formation of this new hospital support group underlines what I have been saying all year, the number one priority for local men and women is the future of maternity services in Down District. ``The transfer of maternity services to Belfast will not benefit expectant mothers in this area because the existing road infrastructure will not meet the demands placed on it.''

Murphy also strongly criticised the local SDLP South Down MP, Eddie McGrady. ``Unlike Mr McGrady, I predicted in April that downgrading the Down Hospital would have a devastating effect on the wider community, precisely because maternity services would be lost.''

Murphy also called on the newly appointed NIO Health Minister, John Howarth, to respond to the Hearts of Down Group's urgent request for a meeting. He added: ``The women undoubtedly have an irrefutable case to make and can be assured that Sinn Féin will continue to do all in its power to have the 15 million available for maternity services elsewhere relocated to South Down''.

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