Downe must play key role

Downe must play key role

13 October 2021

HEALTH chiefs have this week been urged to significantly enhance the role of the Downe Hospital.

They are being asked to build a new extension to allow the building to play an increasingly important role in the delivery of healthcare.

The Down Community Health Committee has also appealed to the South Eastern Trust to accelerate the 

process of restoring all pre-Covid services to the Downpatrick hospital and ensure that this is one of the 

organisation’s top priorities.

The call comes after it was confirmed that a number of planned operations at the Downe have been cancelled over recent weeks to allow staff to be redeployed to the intensive care unit at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.

Nineteen months after the local hospital’s emergency department was closed temporarily as part 

of the health trust’s Covid emergency response, campaigners say it is now time for the key service to return.

They say that while the creation of a daytime only urgent care centre as an interim measure on the road to the restoration of the full emergency department services was welcome, the needs of the community have been clearly demonstrated and that the Downe’s previous ED must be restored.

Community Health Committee chairman, Mr Eamonn McGrady, said the health trust’s position on emergency care for the entire East Down area, from Strangford to Newcastle and beyond, “is not appropriate”.

He declared: “The dire situation fails to meet the needs of the local community and the model of care was changed in an emergency, without the opportunity for due scrutiny and consultation with the local community. That was understandable in March 2020, but needs to be addressed now.

“The simple inadequacy of the emergency ambulance response times in this area is also a matter of grave concern. We recognise that a major element in that service failure is the lengthy ambulance handover times that can occur at the hospitals with the centralised services. 

“That was to be dealt with under the Department of Health’s “No More Silos” document, published a full year ago. Why has that still not been addressed?” he asked.

Veteran hospital campaigner, Ann Trainor, has welcomed news in a letter from health officials that they are “actively working” on improving so-called point of care testing 

capability at the Downe Hospital, which should significantly increase service delivery in the urgent care centre.

“This is good news,” she continued. “We hope that progress on this will be very swift and perhaps the South Eastern Trust could explain why we are still waiting on an MRI scanner at the Downe too?

“Honeyed words won’t increase the diagnostic capability of our local hospital, one which has so much to offer on a regional basis too, but swift action will. The Trust told us recently that the urgent care centre is ‘meeting the needs of the public’ but one really has to wonder how this opinion has been formed,” said Mrs Trainor.

Appealing for increased investment at the Downe site, health campaigners say that the hospital has the capability to do much more.

The say the hospital’s bed capacity must be extended to help meet the needs of local communities but also to help address the regional beds shortage caused by the large cut in capacity across Northern Ireland “which has been brutally exposed during the Covid crisis”.

The campaigners added: “The South Eastern Trust should now be looking at a large extension to the hospital, creating new capacity, away from over congested centralised sites, levelling up rural inequality in healthcare provision. That work must be done now and urgently and hand-in-hand with the creation of new medical workforce capacity.

“It is time to build for the future and it is time for all the political parties to vigorously pursue this new investment for the Downe, the people’s hospital. The people expect politicians to deliver and deliver now.”

A South Eastern Trust spokeswoman confirmed that due to the pressures of Covid-19, a small number of theatre lists at the Downe Hospital had to be cancelled in the past two weeks in order to provide staff support in the Intensive Care Unit at the Ulster Hospital. 

“Patients who unfortunately had their procedures postponed have been rescheduled or have already had their procedures at another site in the South Eastern Trust area,” she confirmed.

The spokeswoman said a normal theatre schedule will resume as soon as possible.