SENIOR medics have denied accusations that they’re closing down hospital units in Bangor and Ards because of design flaws in the Ulster Hospital’s new A&E.
Councillor Ray McKimm levelled the allegation after receiving internal South Eastern Health Trust documents that he believes paint a different picture to the one being portrayed by health officials.
Health officials were at an Ards and North Down Council meeting last Wednesday night to be quizzed over their plans to shut down Minor Injuries Units (MIUs) in Newtownards and Bangor.
The Trust wants to move the Ards MIU to the Ulster Hospital later this year, then at some point in the future create a new Urgent Care Centre in the same building as the Ulster’s coming new A&E department.
During last week’s meeting, however, South Eastern Trust senior emergency department consultant, Dr Andrew Dobbin, admitted that NHS officials don’t yet know when the Urgent Care Centre might be ready to open.
And he was also questioned over what Mr McKimm alleged was ‘a planning and design fault’ in the Ulster’s new A&E; one that, the Bangor Central councillor believes, the Trust is trying to sort out by axing the two MIUs.
The new A&E has been built to house 51 treatment cubicles, but in an internal memo written by Dr Dobbin and obtained by Mr McKimm, the medic stated that he’d need at least 59 cubicles to meet current demand.
Said Mr McKimm: “The public messaging – that 51 is sufficient, planned, at the right capacity and will work well – is not the messaging that I’m reading in a whole bundle of internal memos and emails from the Trust.
“I’m very concerned that the motivation behind this closure of the MIUs is simply because there is a planning and design fault at the Ulster Hospital.
“It’s not big enough, and the reason that we’re going lose our MIUs is that you’re trying to solve planning and design faults at the Ulster Hospital – and I could go through multiple internal emails where this is openly discussed within the Trust.”
Dr Dobbin confirmed that the memo was an update on statistics that he writes every week, but denied that the A&E will be too small.
The figure of 59 cubicles was true as of two weeks ago, he said, but if the Urgent Care Centre is built, then the A&E would be freed up to only take in emergency patients and 51 cubicles would be more than enough.
“We have 59 cubicle spaces being taken up by inpatients, rather than emergency patients,” he said.
“If the question is, specifically, is 51 enough to see the emergency work, it 100% is big enough to see the emergency work.
“[The MIU and Urgent Care Centre plans] will significantly improve turnaround for those fit to be seen in a different space, to focus on their needs and not compete for space.”
Alderman Alan McDowell, council leader of Alliance, the only party to back the MIU closure plans, asked the doctor to give an estimated date for the Urgent Care Centre opening.
Dr Dobbin was unable to do so, stating that in terms of a date ‘there is a lot of things in play’, as it could only happen after the Ulster’s A&E moves into its new unit which frees up the current A&E to house a relocated Ards MIU.
Dr Dobbin said that would provide ‘a Minor Injuries plus’ unit in the Ulster, adding: “It’s complex. Will it be seamless? There’s going to be an awful lot of work behind the scenes; information out to patients, GPs, the Ambulance Service.
“There’s no intention to close the Minor Injuries space until that space is ready to be moved into.”
Trust officials were also quizzed about the complexity of their public consultation on the axe bid.
The council has previously called for the current consultation to be spiked, arguing that it is far too difficult for many locals to complete as it involves bouncing between different online documents.
However, Trust assistant director of strategic and capital development, Naomi Dunbar, denied there were any issues, maintaining that officials can post hard copies of the consultation on request, while people can also make their voices heard by phone or in writing.