THE campaign to safeguard services at Coleraine’s Causeway Hospital will begin in earnest this week when the public service union, Unison, holds an emergency meeting to thrash out a battle strategy.
Local trade union representatives at the acute area hospital will put their heads together on Thursday, January 5, to decide on a course of action to bolster an existing online petition.
It is understood the meeting will also be used to fine tune an already accepted proposal to hold public protest meetings in each of the towns and villages covered by the Causeway to give local people a chance to voice their concerns and add their names to the petition.
Kim Hall , Branch Secretary of Unison, Causeway Hospital, told The Times: “We are looking for help and support from the local communities who will be directly affected by any loss of services at Causeway Hospital. We will be holding meetings at town halls, community halls - anywhere that will have us - and there will be an opportunity for everyone to sign the petition.
“When we have the signatures we need, we intend to take it to the steps of Stormont and present it to the health minister, Edwin Poots,” she added.
Although no definite decision has been taken as to the long term future of Causeway Hospital or it’s acute status, Kim revealed that staff in all departments are already worried about their jobs something which could affect patient care.
“I work here and I have been keeping an eye on all the departments. Everyone is worried that they will be moving,” she said. “The fears that workers have are real and they really need the support of the public.”
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The branch secretary lambasted any thoughts of removing services from the Causeway Hospital which she said already covered one of the widest rural areas of any Trust region, a fact which came home to her recently when it took her two and half hours to travel from Causeway to Braid Valley Hospital, Ballymena, due to recent snow on the Limavady mountain road.
“Doctors talk about “the golden hour” - that first precious period when critical patients require immediate attention. We had recent examples at both the NW200 and the Milk Cup of how important it is to have immediate hospital attention available on the North Coast instead of travelling in a bumpy ambulance for two and half hours.
“We had 3,000 people through A&E last month with 17 trolley waits. That shows there is demand for the beds. Instead of looking to take services away I believe they should be building on an extension and adding to the existing services which already fall short of demand.”
Causeway, a 203-bed acute care hospital, is part of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust and serves a vast area, stretching from The Glens and Ballycastle in the east, as far as Kilrea and Ballymoney in the south and Castlerock in the West.
The hospital which was opened by former first minister David Trimble in 2002 provides a range of services and has three operating theatres with a six-bed recovery unit. The Compton report released in December argues for a reduction in the number of acute area hospitals in Northern Ireland from 10 to either 5 or 7.