Across Scotland, Wales and England, only one ED appears to have closed due to the problems with the outbreak of Covid-19 writes Jim Masson.
Yet in Northern Ireland, we have seen three closed, all south of the Belfast golden circle of hospitals in County Down. And statiticians will no doubt agree, South Down was not a Covid-19 hotbed of pandemic virulence.
A few days ago SKY TV in a report said that the closure of the Emergency Department at Weston General Hospital in England was the first hospital ED in NHS England to be forced to close due to the Covid-19 epidemic. It had come as quite a shock to the medical system in England.
Down News has since asked NHS Wales and NHS Scotland one basic question: ‘how many Ed’s in your jurisdiction have closed due to the Covid-19 epidemic‘.
The answers just took a day or two to establish. Basically, the responses from NHS Scotland and NHS Wales were that ‘NONE’ of their ED’s had been closed due to the Covid-19 epidemic.
Down News asked the five hospital trusts in Northern Ireland the same question.
Their answers were as follows:
Belast HSC Trust: One (Mater Hospital was adjusted to be a Covid-19 response hospital).
Northern HSC Trust : None. Neither of the two EDs were closed.
Western HSC Trust: None. They did not close either of their two ED’s.
Southern HSC Trust: One. Daisyhill ED was closed and Criagavon remains open.
South Eastern HSC Trust: One. The Downe ED was closed and Lagan Valley and the Ulster Hospital remain open.
It would seem that in a line from south of Belfast, three ED’s have been closed that served the people of wider south County Down. It can be argued that the people of South Belfast have access to the Belfast ED’s that remain open.
And it can be also argued that the people of the southern area of South Down have been more adversely impacted due to the closures of their ED’s than compared to other areas.
In Downpatrick, part of the South Eastern HSC Trust, the Downe ED closed, whilst Lagan Valley ED remained open. The Daisy Hill Hospital ED also closed, and Craigavon ED remained open.
The Belfast population have been serviced during the Covid-19 crisis by the the ED’s at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Ulster Hospital at Dundonald, and just up the MI motorway in Lisburn lies the Lagan Valley Hospital, and north of Belfast up the M2 motorway, the Antrim Hospital with its ED which is also within comfortable distance of the ED’s in Belfast, but that one too remained open.
Also, the Nightingale Hospital at the City Hospital dedicated to a Covid-19 response has not experienced a rush of cases as expected. When it closed recently, it had processed 99 Covid-19 cases. The Downe Hospital to that date has processed 97 cases.
Despite the good intentions of our local hospital Trusts and their commitment to reassure the public in their areas of benefit that they are working hard to re-establish services that were operating before the virus outbreak, many people are still sceptical that services will be re-established.
Eamonn McGrady, Chairman of the Down Community Health Committee said: “It is important when we return to normality that our services are restored to the level that existed before the coronavirus outbreak. The NI Executive’s Programme for Government which was shaping up at the start of the year has been put on hold.
“We also saw a new health Minister who came into office and within a short space of time he was faced with the Covid-19 crisis in early March. But gradually they grappled with the problems and we seem to be moving out of it.
“The people of Down District are particularly impacted by these temporary changes and we as a community would still like to see a 24/7 ED in the Downe Hospital in Downpatrick. Reconfiguring the services on the back of the ‘temporary’ ED closures will not be accepted by the people of this area if it means a further reduction in our essential services.
“Our politicians need to be aware of this and they need to do what they can to help restore the Down Hospital ED to a 24/7 status all through the whole year. We have seen how Trusts have deployed staff to overcome logistical issues so why can’t they do the needful and re-open out ED in Downpatrick?”
Therefore, of all the populations across the UK, it could be argued that with the closures of two important ED’s in Newry and Downpatrick, that the population in these areas is being treated less favourably despite the overt statements and good intentions from health trust chiefs.
There is many a slip twixt cup and lip, and health campaigners will be keeping a close eye on any re-configurations of services and political interventions.
Hopefully, when services do come back, they will reflect where they were when the Covid-19 epidemic struck?
But for the people of south Down, the burning question remains, does lightning strike twice in the same place ?
Update: The opening hours for Lagan Valley Hospital are: Lagan Valley casualty department is closed from 8pm in the evening, and on Saturday and Sunday. Belfast hospitals are the only cover available outside these hours.