Public urged to make views known on urgent care plan

Public urged to make views known on urgent care plan

29 June 2022

A REMINDER has been issued to people across the district that the closing date for responses to public consultation on the future of urgent and emergency care across the province is this Friday.

The Department of Health is asking the public for its view, with local health campaigners encouraging interested individuals, groups and organisations to respond, highlighting the importance of local voices being heard on such a crucial matter.

The Down Community Health Committee said there needs to be a “fair distribution” of health and social care services and that health inequalities — including the discrimination against rural communities — must now be addressed. 

Campaigners say this is especially so in areas where the population is growing fast and where the age profile is changing.

They say it is quite obvious that the sprawling rural East Down area needs an emergency department operating 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

“This is particularly important in an area such as ours, which suffers from dreadful transport infrastructure and a woefully inadequate ambulance service,” said a campaign group spokesman.

“The current distortion to the entire urgent and emergency care framework, as a consequence of the Belfast parish pump politics leading to an inappropriate concentration of services in and around Belfast, whilst services are denied to our community, cannot continue.”

The spokesman said rural citizens across Northern Ireland have the right to access the services that they pay for through their tax and National Insurance contributions.

“We have rights and these rights cannot be denied to us,” the spokesman declared. “Whilst there are some welcome points in the consultation document, we feel that there are some that require challenge.

“The consultation document does not specify how many emergency departments there would be and where they would be located. Nor does it specify their grade. 

“It is essential that the statistical analyses underlying the proposals reflects the pre-Covid experience, rather than the inevitably heavily distorted period since the Covid emergency began.”

The health group’s spokesman argued that if urgent care centres are to be the way ahead, they must contain for the Down area, precisely the same services that people enjoyed over a decade ago, pre any so-called “temporary” reductions in service and delivered on a 24-hour basis. 

He said confidence would be greatly increased if local people were assured, for example, that there might be three urgent care centres in the Greater Belfast area but that, to improve efficiency, there would only be one Type 1 emergency department.

Campaigners also called for a categorical assurance that there will be a permanent and substantial out of hours GP service available in Downpatrick.

The spokesman added: “We are unconvinced as to the benefits of a telephone first service. If that is indeed the way ahead, we wonder why it has not already been implemented in Belfast?  Surely the big city with all the problems in its emergency departments needs much more of this?”

The health committee spokesman also contended that the urgent and emergency care review “fails to fully recognise” an essential element in the genesis of the emergency care problem — that historic obsessions with centralisation and bed reductions has not served anyone well, as was so aptly demonstrated during the Covid emergency.

He said campaigners are calling on all politicians, including those of the five parties that took place in last week’s health summit in Belfast, to place full details of the information at their disposal about proposed changes into the public domain now.

The spokesman added: “The entire community across the North needs to be given full details of what is proposed. Otherwise, the people of Northern Ireland may well feel that they are being asked to buy into a “pig in a poke”.

Responses in writing to the urgent and emergency care consultation can be made to the consultation team the Department of Health, Regional Health Transformation Directorate, Annex 3, Castle Buildings, Stormont, Belfast BT4 3SQ. Responses can be emailed to