HOSPITAL UNITS AXED

    HOSPITAL UNITS AXED

     

    Health trust dismisses calls to save Minor Injuries in crunch vote

     

    By Iain Gray

     

    MINOR Injuries Units in Bangor and Ards are to be axed for good – despite a 19,000-strong petition against the move.

    Yesterday afternoon, the local NHS Trust’s board unanimously voted to scrap both MIUs in favour of creating a new unit in Dundonald’s Ulster Hospital.

    During that meeting, officials revealed that the Trust got a total of 388 responses to its public consultation on the issue, the vast majority of which were opposed to the closures.

    But South Eastern Health Trust chief executive Roisin Coulter described that as ‘a relatively small number of responses considering the population of Ards and North Down, albeit alongside a petition which is being factored in’.

    A report on the consultation delivered to yesterday’s board meeting largely batted away objections raised by the public, an official stating that the Trust had concluded the closures are the right idea.

    Assistant director of strategic and capital development, Naomi Dunbar, repeatedly returned to the same phrase when doing so.

    The Trust ‘accepts that [the move] will unfortunately have an impact’ on groups such as people with mobility problems, those in rural areas and those without a car, she would say, but maintains that its plan is the only way to ‘address safety and sustainability of urgent and emergency care’.

    Objections based on potential problems with already overstretched facilities and parking at the Ulster Hospital were also dismissed.

    Axing the MIUs will only add around five patients per hour to the Ulster, Ms Dunbar said, which in itself wouldn’t have any real impact; the new unit in Dundonald, though, would speed up patient flow in the hospital’s Emergency Department.

    She also stated that while the Trust ‘continues to review’ car parking at the Ulster, an extra five patients per hour wouldn’t make much difference there either.

    The Trust’s plan is to shut both Bangor and Ards MIUs for good this year, and open what’s described as an ‘enhanced Minor Injuries service’ in the Ulster’s old A&E ward.

    In 2025 it hopes to build a new £4m Urgent Care Centre in the Dundonald hospital, which Ms Dunbar stated would be paid for using the Trust’s capital budget.

    Yesterday’s meeting was the first time the Trust publicly declared a budget and timeframe for the Urgent Care Centre, as during the public consultation period officials admitted they had neither in place.

    The Trust says that the Urgent Care facility will offer better outcomes for patients and also take pressure off the Ulster’s struggling Emergency Department.

    Asked what it would have taken to change the Trust’s mind about the axe, Ms Coulter said only credible information of risks to patient or staff safety would have been enough.

    “There wasn’t anything untoward that has come through in the consultation that would cause concern,” the chief executive told yesterday’s board meeting.

    Bangor’s MIU has been closed since Covid hit, something that at the time was said to be a temporary measure, while the Ards unit has been operating on reduced hours.

    Those reduced hours are cited as a reason for closing the Ards facility, with the Trust stating that the new enhanced MIU in Dundonald would be open longer every day.

    In truth the Bangor MIU has barely factored into the consultation. Almost all of the Trust’s points referred to the Ards unit, with officials behaving as if Bangor’s temporary closure was de facto permanent, and it was already gone for good.

    The Trust will now go to the Department of Health, submitting a formal request to close both MIUs in favour of the enhanced unit in the Ulster, as well as permission to work towards the new Urgent Care Centre.