A FORMER mayor of Coleraine has descrribed Causeway Hospital as a sanctuary for people when they are at their lowest.
Speaking at a debate in Stormont last Tuesday, SDLP MLA John Dallat made a plea on behalf of campaigners following a government report that recommends the removal of acute services from the Coleraine hospital.
Mr Dallat, who proposed the debate on the issue, said: “As always, there are competing issues in every constituency, but, in this case, there was no dissent from selecting the Causeway Hospital as an issue that is worthy of debate.
“Indeed, the fact that so many Members are present and so many individuals are in the public gallery is an indication of how seriously the issue is being taken.
“The concern felt due to the uncertainty that arose following the Compton Report has sent shockwaves throughout the North, well beyond the catchment area of the Causeway Hospital.
“For decades, people like John Robb, who is in the public gallery, and other distinguished members of the medical profession campaigned for a new hospital. When the foundation stone was laid by the late Mo Mowlam, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, we all believed that we had a facility that would serve the people of that area for decades to come.
“No sooner had the spanking new hospital opened its doors than the rumours began. Promised services that were to be provided in the Causeway were not commissioned and other services were downgraded. It came, therefore, as no surprise that the Compton Report has re-energised those with a death wish for the Causeway.
“The plotting is well under way, and options are doing the rounds.”
He went on: “The rationalisation of acute hospitals and the provision of accident and emergency services in the Belfast area many be appropriote, but we do not have four hospitals on our doorstep.
“It is not appropriate, sensible or wise to be applying the same rationale when deciding to deprive a whole catchment area, which runs from Limavady and beyond the Glens of Antrim. That suggestion is crazy and misguided and it should be binned immediately.
“Staff, who have given years of loyal service to making the Causeway Hospital a sanctuary for people when thay are at their lowest, crititcally ill and in need of urgent medical and surgical care.”
DUP MLA Gregory Campbell pointed out the importance of the hospital for events in the Coleraine area. He spoke about the Milk Cup: “Last year, when the issue of the possible winding down of the Causeway Hospital began to surface, a number of colleagues and I arranged to meet the Minister, who kindly agreed to see us in his departmental offices.
“We met during the Milk Cup. As we met that morning, the daily newspapers were in front of us, and some of their front pages recorded an incident that occurred at the Milk Cup the previous night, when a young footballer had taken seriously ill on the field of play and was rushed to the Causeway Hospital. Of course, had an effective service not been provided at the Causeway Hospital, we may have been met with a front-page headline of a much starker disposition. That was purely coincidental, but, in a particularly stark and individualistic way, it painted the picture of the issue of the services to the north coast.”
DUP MLA George Robinson highlighted the issue of tourism on the North Coast and the need for a fully functional hospital: “Many have welcomed the news that the Irish Open golf tournament is coming to the north coast and have pointed to the number of visitors that we expect to be attracted to that great event.
“That is just one event to add to those that annually benefit the north coast, which is in the Causeway Hospital catchment area.
“We have the North West 200, the raft race and the Air Show.
“Sadly, we saw at this year’s North West 200 why the first-class A&E services that Causeway provides are required. In forthcoming years, I believe we will have more sporting events. We must have A&E facilities and the infrastructure to cope with them, as well as with the local communities that stretch from Ballycastle to Limavady. A fully functional, 24/7, quality hospital, namely the Causeway, is absolutely critical to the needs and welfare of a large community, plus the needs of the large influx of visitors to the north .
DUP MLA Adrian McQuillan spoke about the petition, with over 26,000 signatures, which he handed in to the House last week on behalf of the Causeway Branch of Unison.
He said: “I believe that that extremely high figure speaks for itself in demonstrating the strength of need in the coastal area for this hospital in its current status. I also believe that any change to its current status would only have a detrimental effect on the provision of health services in the area and to the economy.
“The coastal area has an ever-increasing elderly population, as it is one of the most popular retirement locations in Northern Ireland. It is proven that elderly patients are more likely to present with an emergency need than they are to have an elective appointment.”
Referring to figures, Mr McQuillan added: “I will look now at emergency medicine. Causeway Hospital handled 37·8% of the total new and unplanned attendances for the Northern Trust in 2011. Those figures more than prove that there is a significant requirement for two acute hospitals in the Northern Trust area. There needs to be an improvement in the network across the two acute sites to provide continuity of service, more efficiency, enhanced budget management and the quality primary care of patients. There needs to be an improvement in the sharing of services and resources and that can be done through the networking of skilled consultants, surgeons and specialists between the two sites.”
Independent MLA David McClarty thanked Mr Dallat for securing the debate, saying: “No other subject in the constituency is concentrating minds more.”
“It is thought that training is of a lower standard because of the lower population. However, from talking to clinicians in Causeway, it seems that this is absolute nonsense.
“There is no more attractive area for doctors to come to than the Causeway area. How can you attract any clinician when there is a threat of closure hanging over the Causeway Hospital?
“I have every confidence that the problems can be resolved through the better management of rotas, the rotation of doctors throughout the Trust and a determined effort to recruit staff. Perhaps it is not as simple as I make it sound, but that is certainly the preferred option to safeguard an essential service and employment.”
Mr McClarty concluded: “Minister, I appeal to you: listen to the 26,000 people who signed the petition against closure and listen to the clinicians at the Causeway Hospital.”
Sinn Fein MLA, Daithi McKay also paid credit to Mr Dallat for the debate: “I think everyone here is singing from the same hymn sheet, and I hope that the Minister is also singing from the same hymn sheet.
“It is unusual to have 16 Members from seven different constituencies present for an Adjournment debate, so credit should be given not only to the Member for East Derry who brought this issue to the floor, but to those who campaigned and protested and to the 26,000 people who signed the petition.”
“I urge the Minister to consider the great value that the Causeway Hospital brings to the health service. It is one of our only A&Es that has a clean sheet and a good service record.”