MINOR Injuries Units are no longer working and need to be replaced with a new way of running hospital care, senior local Alliance politicians have insisted.
The party’s North Down MP, Stephen Farry, and MLA Andrew Muir this week came out in favour of plans to axe two MIUs in favour of a new Urgent Care Centre based in the Ulster Hospital.
Describing the MIUs as ‘no longer fit for purpose’, they claimed that patients turning up there are often sent on to the Ulster’s A&E department anyway, making the units a fruitless port of call in many cases.
Alliance is the only political group to back the South Eastern Health Trust’s proposals, as members of every other party as well as several independents have registered their opposition to the scheme.
In the wake of last week’s council debate on the issue and a subsequent cross-party protest outside Ards MIU, Alliance also accused rival politicians of trying to block change they know is necessary.
And they also criticised other parties’ positions as hypocritical, with Mr Muir attacking councillors for ‘speaking out of both sides of their mouths’ and chasing votes with ‘parish pump politics’ when their leaders are on board with making huge changes to modernise Northern Ireland’s health system.
Both Mr Farry and Mr Muir pointed to the 2016 Bengoa Report as proof they are in the right. That report set out a number of sweeping system-wide changes to the NHS in Northern Ireland; despite being endorsed by a host of parties, however, it was never brought into force.
The South Eastern Trust’s MIU axe plan wasn’t mentioned in the Bengoa Report, but Alliance argues that the scheme is in the spirit of its recommendations. And the politicians also accuse their rivals of backing away from the very principle of changing the health system that their leaders were in favour of when Bengoa was published.
Mr Farry said the position of other parties is ‘a classic case of elected representatives failing to stand up for the population’s needs and instead preferring to maintain services, based solely on their location, which are outdated and unsustainable’.
“What we saw in the council last week was a profound rejection of the very principles of the ongoing health transformation process, and of a modernisation which would take pressure off emergency departments and provide more efficient care for people across Ards and North Down,” he said.
“Despite the dedication of those working in it, the Ards Minor Injuries Unit building and model of service delivery is no longer fit for purpose. “It is in any case inadequately connected to the rest of the healthcare system, with people often referred to GPs or sent on to the emergency department instead.”
Mr Muir said he was ‘gobsmacked’ to hear councillors ‘talking out of both sides of their mouths’ during last week’s debate. “[They were] opposing reform and slamming Alliance for being open to the process of change and modernisation, in the full knowledge that their party leaders have been consistently on the record backing Bengoa and health transformation, from which these proposals flow,” he said.
“Our NHS is in crisis; it’s collapsing around us partly because of parish pump politics, which has resulted in difficult decisions delayed and dodged. It’s disappointing that while Alliance chases better patient outcomes, others choose to try to chase votes and play politics with health. “The Bengoa Report is clear. Any reading of it makes the case for change as proposed, and those opposing reform would be wise to read it and reflect upon their stance.”