UNISON protest at A&E 'rumours'

MEMBERS of the union UNISON held a protest against health cuts outside the Causeway Hospital A&E department on Friday.

Branch secretary of the union, Kim Hall, said the protest had been organised against a backdrop of rumours about the A&E department which suggest it could close between 11pm and 7am.

"Management say they are only rumours," she told the Times.

"We just want to let the public know that this is just a rumour."

Mayor of Coleraine, Cllr Norman Hillis, who attended the protest, said that he was in full support of Health Minister Michael McGimpsey.

He urged everyone to fight to protect the Health Service.

"We don't want cutbacks to front line services here at the Causeway Hospital," said the Mayor.

"There are rumours circulating about the A&E department and they are just that - rumours.

"It would be completely impractical to expect an A&E patient to travel to Antrim, no matter how good a hospital it is.

"A life which could have been saved in Coleraine could well be lost, if someone had to travel on to Antrim."

East Londonderry MLA David McClarty said that he fully supported the UNISON workers and said that it was vital that the area retains its health services.

"There are rumours being spread at this time by some individuals in the political world, " said Mr McClarty.

"And it is interesting to note that those political individuals are not here at this demonstration today."

He said that the health service budget had to be ringfenced.

Alderman Maura Hickey of the SDLP also attended and said: "The trend across Europe is a very worrying one and no more so than here in Northern Ireland where the recent draft budget has created a great

deal of fear and anxiety for the future.

"Health cuts by their very nature affect the sick and infirm as well as the elderly who depend on social care services to provide basic support. We know that cuts are coming and we know that they will be severe, unfair, unjust and directed at the most vulnerable people in our society."

Her party colleague John Dallat MLA who couldn't get to the rally said: "I congratulate the union for organising this day of action and apologise for not being able to attend. This was one event I fully intended to be present at but for the snow.

"The SDLP is fully committed to defending the health and social services and all those very committed people who work in them.

"We are very worried that thousands of people will lose their jobs and we did not support the draft budget until we get more details and know exactly what the extent of these cuts are. We want to be sure that

they do not impact on those who are in no position to absorb them.

"In the last couple of weeks I met the Chief Executives and staff of both the Northern and Western Health Trusts and emphasised the need to protect our front line services and in particular the care of

the elderly whether at home, in hospital or in residential or nursing homes.

"Over the next few weeks there will be an opportunity to debate the draft budget and the SDLP will participate fully in that and

give our support to the workers in health and social services."