Dallat: ‘The Causeway Hospital hasn’t let us down’

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On Tuesday there will be an adjournment debate in the Assembly on ‘Services at the Causeway Hospital, Coleraine.

The debate was tabled by SDLP MLA John Dallat.

Mr Dallat said: “‘It is my privilege and honour to lead on this debate on ‘Services at the Causeway Hospital, and to avail of the opportunity to comment on the report by Sir Liam Donaldson.

“It is also an opportunity for me, on behalf of the people I serve, to pay tribute to the doctors and nurses and all the staff, past and present, who have dedicated their lives striving to bring about and maintain a level of health care at the Causeway Hospital which has the capacity to be second to none, unequalled anywhere in the health service.”

Speaking about a personal experience of the hospital, Mr Dallat said: “ We must redouble our efforts to ensure that this wonderful facility which people turn to in times of crisis is secure for future generations.

“There isn’t time to dwell, but I would want every man, woman and child to know that on their door step there are the most wonderful people, driven not by money or reward but by a vocation that is quite unique to the medical service.

“I do want also to acknowledge recent decisions by the Northern Health Trust to make significant appointments to the Causeway Hospital which has helped to reduce anxiety about its future, but certainly hasn’t wiped away the fear that the Minister will accept the ‘one size fits all’ approach based on a cost-cutting agenda more relevant to the health care problems of large English conurbations.

“My arguments are in no small based on the work of the Causeway Hospital Campaign group which is made up of some of the most dedicated, skilled and experienced people associated with community issues and health care in particular. I welcome their attendance in the public gallery here today and

look forward to working with them in the future.

“I plead with the Minister not to accept hook, line and sinker the recommendations of consultants, particularly when those recommendations are plucked out of another area quite unlike and unrepresentative of our own. Remember this is the man who was called on to resign by the British Medical Association when he was Chief Medical Officer in England after producing a highly controversial report on Modernising Medical Careers. His record is not without blemish and in our case he has produced a one dimensional, management-centred, financially-driven report which completely ignores patient-centred local factors.

“This Assembly had a difficult birth and its adolescence hasn’t been without trouble but surely the one thing we can agree on is our ability to make decisions that suit our people, present and future, particularly when there is universal agreement in what should happen for all the best reasons.

“The arguments for ensuring that the Causeway Hospital remains an acute hospital have been well made by people locally who have worked in the service, dedicated their lives to it and by those who have experienced the highest standards of care while patients in it.

“We all know that nothing remains the same and change is inevitable but change must be for the better and must be based on sound judgements and certainly not on the back of a report from an author who does not share the lifetime of experience of those who worked in the hospital for a lifetime and know much better what works and what would be a disaster not just for the Causeway but for the health service as a whole.

“In bringing about change I welcome the increased collaboration between Causeway and Altnagelvin Area Hospital, something which the previous Minister for Health Edwin Poots advocated. This is not a one-way street but a genuine exercise in sending patients in both directions to bring about higher

levels of specialisation not just for the Causeway but also for the Derry-based hospital which has important links also with Letterkenny General Hospital. This surely is good practice which protects the Accident and Emergency Service. We must not allow our Accident and Emergency Department

to become simply a shop front triaging patients for transfer to Belfast-based hospitals.

“Time and time again we are told about problems with recruitment of senior and middle-grade medical staff over the last 5 years. This could be corrected by clear, authoritative statements of intent, and active, visible investment in the future. Recent appointments and the apparent strive to

create new partnerships can remove the uncertainty and will, with little doubt stimulate interest in applying for posts in both the Causeway and Altnagelvin.

“I saw evidence of that at first hand where people from different parts of the world work in harmony as a team to deliver a health service fit for

purpose. It is interesting to note that since its official opening in 2001 the Causeway Hospital has had no capital investment while Antrim has had very heavy investment. It is now time to reassess that strategy and recognise that previous attempts to centralise services 30 miles away was flawed and perhaps the recent appointments I have referred to is the first visible sign of intent to reverse that

policy. I hope so but it needs to be underlined.

Causeway is serving a population of at least 150,000 rising intermittently to around 200,000 and caters for a mobile student population. It would be utter madness to allow a situation to develop when people would have to travel 40 miles to Antrim or a similar distance to Altnagelvin leaving a huge geographical area isolated.

“It is in this respect that we must use our influence as a local assembly to rise above consultants’ reports and do what is best for our people. We should not leave it to a future generation to undo the harm that would be done is reports such as Donaldson was to be implemented in its entirety.

“We need to question these reports, ask who is writing them and what superior knowledge they have over local medical doctors who have spent their entire lifetime working in this area.

“Please don’t let the hospitals become another railway story. Don’t let Donaldson become the Beeching blunder of the 60’s when thousands of railways were closed down on the back of an ill-informed report which almost destroyed the railway infrastructure and has led to many railways being reopened.

“We need to go for it, tackle all the factors which made Causeway less attractive for recruitment and training. I already mentioned collaboration with other hospitals but in-housing training is also vital and demands immediate plans to gain recognition and re-accreditation for a wonderful hospital that deserves to be the flagship of health care covering the entire North West and beyond.

“The Causeway can and will move with the times. It has already demonstrated that it can deliver acute hospital services which are safe, high quality, sustainable and effective. The challenge to this assembly and to our Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety is: ‘Will you rise above Donaldson, will you back a winner and give direction to those who are responsible for the long-term planning of health care in the Causeway Area?

Will you tell them you believe passionately in the people who make the Causeway the hospital what it is and can be in the future? Will you will ensure that there is capital investment and local leadership in planning the future and will you avoid the blunders of past consultants that had no mandate, little knowledge of the areas they reported on and will you prevent them causing a future train wreck of a different type involving the health and well-being of our people?

“In drawing to a conclusion I know that there are many issues which I have not dealt with such as the ongoing management of Palliative care, midwifery and the relationship with the Ulster University and hopefully others will pick up on these and other important issues.

“I look forward to the contributions of other MLAs because this is a task we must do together and I particularly want to hear the response of the minister in what is the most important issue facing the people I and others represent now and in the future. The Causeway Hospital hasn’t let us down, the people who serve in it haven’t let us down and God forbid this Assembly lets the Causeway Hospital down.