Down Community Health Committee Calls On All Parties To Include Downe Hospital On Their Manifestoes

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Dear Editor,

re: LOVE THE DOWNE march and protest first anniversary.

Love Sunday sees the first anniversary of the largest rally ever to take place in support of an NHS hospital, when 20,000 people from Strangford to Saintfield, Ballynahinch to Ballymartin, Newcastle and the Mournes, Castlewellan and, of course, Downpatrick took to the streets in an unparallelled gathering showing the entire community’s love for the Downe Hospital.

Since that time, the Down Community Health Committee has met with Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the TUV to make a case for our enhanced local hospital. We will meet with the DUP on Monday next and hope to meet with the Alliance Party and the Ulster Unionist Party in the very near future. Our logic is simple. Health is a devolved responsibility, a matter to the dealt with at Stormont by local politicians.

Eamonn McGrady, Chairman of the Down Community Health Committee, addresses the 20,000 strong rally in Downpatrick last year and called for full services to be restotred to the Downe Hospital.
Eamonn McGrady, Chairman of the Down Community Health Committee, addresses the 20,000 strong rally in Downpatrick last year and is once again calling one year on for full services to be restored to the Downe Hospital and asking all parties to include this health issue in their NI Assembly election manifestoes for May.

The campaign is now at a crucial juncture. The centralists, who have had their way for thirty five years, are engaged in a massive push to close key local services and centralise them in a handful of hospitals (they can’t quite specify how many) at a time when the NHS in England and Wales is moving in the opposite direction. One wonders why there is such a sudden rush. The unprecedented demands for political consensus around the issue of hospital closures is a reflection of the weakness of our political system. Could we imagine a situation where the Labour and Conservative parties or Fine Gael and Fianna Fail would agree on such policies? Of course not!

Eamonn McGrady, chair of the Down Community Health Committee, on the white line protest in Castlewellan last year.
Eamonn McGrady, chair of the Down Community Health Committee, on the white line protest in Castlewellan last year.

There are always alternative ways to deliver services and these should be debated. What is important is the politicians should deliver the services the people want and, as is frequently forgotten, pay for. And then, of course, there are cynics who believe that local hospitals like the Downe (and, soon to follow, perhaps, Daisy Hill) could be sacrificed in a vile political sweetheart deal. “If you don’t mention the hospitals…….”

Change in the structure of healthcare provision is, we all know, essential and desirable. It is also an excellent opportunity to provide equality of access to services for rural citizens. With the proposed reductions in acute hospital provision (perhaps to just six hospitals),simple equality demands just one Emergency Department for the 22% of the population who live in Belfast.

We would never call for or support such a change, but neither can local hospital services across the North be sacrificed or cannibalised to gush yet more money and resources into the Belfast cash magnets. Emergency Department waiting times are never out of the news. Ambulance delays hit the headlines all too often (or maybe not often enough) reflecting the under resourcing of that service. Waiting lists for NHS consultant appointments are breath taking, yet one local private healthcare provider can offer access to 141 consultants (many of whom work also in the NHS), with an average waiting time of 3.5 days to see a consultant. Yes. The Public Sector has, perhaps, something to learn from the Private Sector.

The people of South Down can take a major step towards protecting and restoring local health services at the Assembly election. We must simply ask each candidate or canvasser the following questions:

1. Does your manifesto specifically require the restoration of 24 hour A & E and the designated coronary care unit at the Downe Hospital, removed without consultation?

2. Does your manifesto require such a commitment to be included in the next Programme for Government?

3. Does your manifesto make such a commitment a ‘red line’ issue, ie. your party will not sign up to the Programme for Government without that commitment being expressly included?

If the answer to all three questions is ‘yes’, vote accordingly.

If it is ‘no’, let there be no confusion or obfuscation about your voting intentions.

Yours,

Eamonn McGrady.

(Chairman, Down Community Health Committee).