Just over twelve months ago the community of The Glens of Antrim and Causeway Coast was stunned by the announcement from The Northern Health and Social Care Trust that the Dalriada in Ballycastle was to be closed.
However, the community was not stunned into silence, but instead embarked on what was perhaps one of the most effectively organised and sophisticated campaigns ever run to save a local hospital.
The campaign had several fronts including a legal challenge, public protests and mass mobilisations on the streets, social media and conventional media campaigns, political lobbying and multi-stakeholder engagements. Ultimately it was the legal action that saved the Dal and reversed the closure decision, but the campaign in all galvanised the area like never before.
The Save The Dal Campaign was a huge success, but as is often the case with campaigns, after the immediate crisis has been averted people return to their own lives and the positive momentum gradually slips away. An unusual feature of the Save the Dal campaign is that this has not happened. Almost as soon as the announcement was made that the Dalriada Hospital had been saved, a number of members of the campaign started into a new phase.
Dr Réamaí Mathers, Chairperson of the group explained: “The Save the Dal campaign was certainly fast and furious, but one thing we said from the start was that we as members of the community felt culpable about the potential closure. We had taken the great hospital service for granted and while the staff and community of ‘The Dal’ has touched the lives of most families in the area, we had never imagined Ballycastle without it.
“The campaign was bruising but it was not about that. We deliberately didn’t lead a negative campaign, but rather we wanted to be given the time and resource in order that a better ‘local’ solution could be built for both frail and elderly people living here.”
“The Save the Dal campaign team have been true to their word and have now spent the last nine months working on their plans for a local healthcare solution. With the support of the outgoing Moyle District Councillors, £20,000 was set aside to work with consultants to create the basis for what is now called the Dalriada Pathfinder.”
Committee member and local GP Dr Mary McLister explained: “It has been an exhausting number of months, but we have worked closely with the consultants and come up with what we consider to be a model that will improve local healthcare. We had three main goals: To improve healthcare
along with a feeling of wellbeing and security for our frail and elderly; To increase morale amongst local professional healthcare workers and; To help create an organic local connection with volunteers and third sector groups.
“We are convinced that The Dalriada Pathfinder will create an interconnected network of healthcare professionals and community in a way that will allow a continuity of care from home, community and, when needed, through our local hospital. This system which is based on an amalgamation of two award winning tried and tested healthcare models that have been tried and tested in Cornwall and in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust areas. If adapted locally we believe these models will create a more efficient caring health community with savings realised being reinvested to improve other areas of health.”
The Dalriada Pathfinder model has received unanimous support from the Causeway Coast and Glens Council; all local MLAs; local GP practices and from the Northern Health and Social Trust.
Dr Mathers however explained that everything is not assured yet: “Throughout this process we have been engaged with various groups from the health and social care sectors, and attended a wide range of meetings. The response has been positive. This community has put a huge effort in over these past 12 months and we believe we have a model that can be a local success and indeed an exemplar for other rural regions.
“What we need now is the resource investment in expertise and finances to make this happen. We have been lead to believe that this will now follow but we do not want to fall at this hurdle. The next few weeks will be crucial.”
The Dalriada Pathfinder will be holding a Public meeting early in the New Year to consult with the community about the path ahead. We are keen to here from all members of the community so PLEASE come along.