A HUNDRED and fifty people attended the ‘Save the Causeway’ public meeting in Coleraine Leisure Centre this week.
The meeting was called by Causeway Trades Council to discuss the threat to the Causeway Hospital’s acute services.
Held in Coleraine Leisure Centre and chaired by independent MLA David McClarty the audience heard how any downgrading of facilities at Causeway would be detrimental to every aspect of life in the area.
The previous day Health Minister Edwin Poots released details of the ‘Population Plan’ prior to consultation of the final proposals starting in September.
The plan cites a lack of staff to sustain acute services in the hospital and outlines the Northern Health Trust’s preference for a new build hospital replacing both Antrim and Causeway hospitals, although it admits there is no money to build one.
Speaking on the staffing issue, Dr Paul Gilmore a recently retired hospital consultant in Coleraine for 31 years, told the meeting “The Trust says that Causeway will find it difficult to recruit doctors in the future but it is very hard to attract new doctors to a hospital that the Trust has made clear it wishes to downgrade and therefore has an uncertain future”.
He added: “If the Northern Trust wishes Causeway to retain acute services all they have to do is say so. State that they are committed to providing resources to retain acute services which are safe and are fully sustainable in the future.
“Then they will find attracting staff won’t be difficult and if there is difficulty head hunt consultants as the Western Board did recently to open the Erne hospital.
“It can be done if the will is there The Health Minister Edwin Poots and the chief executive of the Northern Trust Sean Donaghy have the power to do this – why aren’t they?”
Unison Regional Secretary Patricia McKeown addressed the meeting, speaking not only of the threat to Causeway Hospital but to the NHS as a whole.
“It isn’t a question of affordability it’s a question of how the money is allocated,” she said.
She urged people to “get angry, get really angry. This is our health service, we pay for, we need it and we deserve it”.
She also called on people to hold local politicians accountable for the way they vote on these issues in Stormont.
James Smyth from Causeway Chamber of Commerce spoke of how any loss of jobs associated with hospital closure would further damage the local economy and businesses in the area.
He pointed out that any move to re-locate acute services to Antrim would require the upgrade of the A26 to a fully dualled road between Coleraine and Antrim, something the Chamber has been campaigning for without success.
During an open floor discussion, speaker after speaker spoke of the role the Causeway Hospital played in their lives and the need not only to retain services but to sustain and improve them.
Patrick Mulholland, president of the public service trade union NIPSA, commended so many people for turning out to save the hospital and reminded them that while the Government complains that there isn’t the money for the NHS many billions of pounds were found to bail out the banks.
Causeway Trades Council Chairperson, Alison Grundle spoke of the need for a well organised campaign involving the whole community.
She proposed the setting up of an organising committee to devise a strategy and plan further activities to take the campaign forward.
Speaking after the meeting Causeway Trades Council Secretary, Rodger Doherty, told the Times: “It was a fantastic meeting, the turnout shows just how people in this area feel about the threat to Causeway Hospital.
“Many people have left their names wanting to be involved in the campaign to save our services. We are under no illusion this will be a challenge but there is a real willingness here to fight the battle.
“Anyone wanting to get involved please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0777 2191936.
The organisers of the meeting thank the staff at Coleraine Leisure Centre for hastily relocating the meeting when the original room proved too small.