THE Health Minister, Edwin Poots has stressed that no decision has been made on proposed cuts to acute services at the Causeway Hospital.
Speaking during a health service debate at Stormont on Tuesday afternoon, the Minister pointed out that at no point had he expressed any desire to remove services from the hospital.
He added that any changes would go through a formal consultation and that the public would be given a chance to engage with the Department as part of the process.
Mr Poots said: “ I know that the subject of the Causeway Hospital has been a matter of some concern and media speculation of late, and, in particular, the issue of the emergency department has been raised recently in the House.
“I want to start by commending the work of all the staff at the Causeway Hospital.
“I am very much aware of the pressures on our health and social care services and the dedication and diligence of the workforce in the Causeway Hospital in ensuring that the treatment and care of patients is of the highest order.
“The review of health and social care services in Northern Ireland and the subsequent ‘Transforming Your Care’ report have made it clear that significant changes will be required to the HSC in Northern Ireland.
“I support the vast majority of the recommendations in the ‘Transforming Your Care’ report. It is too soon to say exactly what those changes will mean for the future configuration of services or the implications for individual hospitals, but our aim must be, as I have said many times, to have safe, resilient and sustainable services, with the focus on the individual as opposed to the institution.”
Mr Poots went on: “As the process of identifying and assessing options has not been completed, no one can yet say what the full range of options that will be assessed in any part of Northern Ireland will be.
“However, there will be proper, open and formal consultation on the way ahead that I will propose when I have assessed all the population plans. No decision on major service reconfiguration will be made before that process has been completed.”
Emphasising again that no decision had been made, Mr Poots told members: “ As I said, however, no decisions have yet been made about future hospital services in the Northern Trust area.
“A range of engagement activities is under way with councils and community groups across the area, and discussion of the options and the future role of the Causeway Hospital is part of the debate in the workshops and meetings.
“Difficult decisions may have to be made in the future, but our aim at all times will be to ensure that patients are put first and that we have in place a safe and sustainable service that meets the needs of the population it serves.
“To that end, the future services of the Causeway Hospital are very much in the hands of the local management and clinicians.
“The proposals that they produce need to be safe, sustainable, resilient and, dare I say, innovative. I have, at no point, expressed any desire to remove services from the Causeway Hospital.
“If I do not receive a safe, sustainable and resilient proposal, there is a serious risk of the withdrawal of services in an unplanned way by the Royal Colleges, which will not allow their members to be compromised by delivering an unsafe service.
“We will have the formal consultation processes, which will recognise the significant changes across the system to the services. Key stakeholders and the wider public will have their say. I encourage the local community to engage fully, as it and many of the local MLAs and MPs have been doing, with the development of the population plan. I trust that, as we reach a conclusion on the matter in due course, after giving it all the appropriate attention, detail and thought, we will arrive at the right decision for the Northern Ireland health service and for the people who live in the catchment area of the Causeway Hospital.
“To that end, we will have to wait until we hear all the relevant information before we can make those decisions.”