Hazzard Concerned At Attempt To Close Rural Hospitals

South Down Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard says the Health Minister must come clean on ‘ideal plan’ to close half of our hospitals across the North of Ireland


South Down Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard says the Health Minister must come clean on ‘ideal plan’ to close half of our hospitals.

Strikers and supporters at the gate of the Downe Hospital in 2019 supporting the nurses strike. A strong public campaign could be to the fore once again if the future of the Downe Hospital and its services are threatened.

Chris Hazzard MP has said recent comments from a senior health consultant in which he revealed a ‘plan’ to close half the hospitals across the North of Ireland are a grim warning to rural communities that their local hospitals face a huge battle to be involved in the delivery of services in the time ahead. 

And Down Community Health Committee health campaigners Eamonn McGrady (chair) and Ann Trainor (vice-chair) have made a strong statement in Down News indicating their serious concerns at this development and are also calling for clarification from the Minister.

South Down MP Chris Hazzard.

Mr Hazzard explained that in a recent meeting with health officials from across the North, Dr John Maxwell – a senior Emergency Department Consultant with the Belfast Hospital HSC Trust – provided an update on the unpublished ‘Review of Urgent & Emergency Care in which he referred to :

a ‘”plan” to “ideally see the number of hospitals halved over the next ten years”. 

Having seen the minutes of the meeting, the South Down MP said: 
“Those of us who have been involved in the struggle to promote and protect accessible health services especially for rural areas in recent times, will not be shocked to hear a Belfast-based consultant speak of the need to centralise services.

“It is deeply worrying however, that they would speak of an actual ‘plan’ to close half the hospitals. 

In the firing line: the Downe Hospital in Downpatrick.

“The public have not been made aware of any such plan – indeed as far as I know – neither the Health Committee at Stormont, nor the Health Minister himself, have ever publicly discussed or published a plan that would ‘ideally see the number of hospitals halved’. 

“There is an urgent need now for the Health Minister to investigate these remarks, and publicly dispel any such notion that unelected or unaccountable bureaucrats will be shutting half our hospitals.

“Failure to do so would be hugely damaging, undermining the transformation process and run contrary to the principle of partnership working and co-design that is fundamental to transformation.

“Transformation can only be successful where it is planned, designed and delivered at every stage in partnership with the people who use and deliver health and social care services, as set out in the Delivering Together, not determined solely by the Department of Health.”

Down Community Health Committee

The recent statement from Chris Hazzard MP concerning an alleged plan to close half of the hospitals in Northern Ireland in the next 10 years is a matter of massive concern for the local community.

“It is essential that the Health Minister Mr Robin Swann, immediately reassures the public across the North that there is no such plan and that no such plan would even be countenanced,” said Down Community Health Committee chairperson, Eamonn McGrady.

Eamonn McGrady, Chairman of the Down Community Health Committee.

He added: “We have had 40 years of the centralist agenda in this country and look at how it left us, facing into a pandemic with a serious shortage of hospital beds, intensive care beds and not even sufficient PPE.

“And Boris Johnston wanted vacuum cleaner manufacturers to start building ventilators. Of course, there would’ve been little point in having the beds if there were not the doctors, nurses and support staff to operate them.

“It is incumbent upon the leaders of all the main political parties in Northern Ireland to state unequivocally now that they would never countenance such a proposal and to provide an assurance that future Health Ministers from their parties would immediately act to reverse any such plans.

“There is not much point standing on the front steps at Stormont applauding the NHS for its excellent work if, just a stone’s throw away, plans are being hatched to further emaciate it.

“The way to address waiting lists is surely not in reducing the number of hospitals, investing yet more in massively over-developed existing sites and ignoring the substantial body of research now being used to support changes in policy in England and Wales. In these areas, the crucial role of smaller hospitals is now being increasingly recognised and Government policy has shifted in their favour.”

Mrs Ann Trainor of the Down Community Health Committee called on local elected representatives to exercise their influence to ensure that their party leaders should provide “immediate reassurance, unequivocal and specific, that the closure of hospitals, something never envisaged in the Bengoa Report, would never be contemplated.”

Ann Trainor added: “What has become of the grandiose claims of engagement and partnership in the co-design of health services for local communities? Were they worthless flannel? Decisions about the future of services must be taken by politicians, not bureaucrats, never mind closurecrats.

“We will all be watching carefully to ensure that the Trust Covid recovery plan, due with the Department of Health on Friday, will lead to a swift and full restorations of pre-Covid services at the Downe. Nothing less will do.”

Eamonn McGrady added, “ Our community will firmly rebut any threat to our local hospital and we will also support Daisy Hill Hospital and the Mater Hospital, which may well be in the firing line now too.

“Perhaps even now, Newry Mourne and Down District Council could find its way to providing meaningful and practical support to our campaign.

“We expect that local Councillors will serve the appropriate Notice of Motion immediately.”