The Daisyhill Hospital in Newry and the Downe Hospital in Downpatrick had their Emergency Department services altered and cut when the Covid-19 epidemic took hold. This was a response to an unprecedented epidemic.
However, as the mortality rate is now dropping significantly, and there are calls in the community to have these vital services restored to a pre-Covid-19 status.
The Chief Executive of the Southern HSC Trust, Shane Devlin, said: “I understand you are concerned about how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on health and social care services and how we can move towards a restoration of local services.
“We will be reopening access to emergency medicine in Daisy Hill Hospital, but the issue is timing. We need to be assured that it is safe to do so.
“Covid-19 is still a significant and serious issue for health and social care. While thankfully cases are currently decreasing, it still is circulating in our community, and that will be the major consideration on any decisions on the future restoration of services.
“We are still treating Covid-19 patients in our hospitals on a daily basis and this remains a huge operational challenge. This will not change in the foreseeable future.
“The majority of our services necessitate close contact with patients and clients. Having to be socially distanced is impacting, and will impact, on every level of our service delivery. Patient-facing services will require staff to wear protective equipment (PPE) to carry out their duties for the foreseeable future – this represents a major delivery challenge.
“As part of a regional approach we are urgently reviewing our services to see how we can re-build safe care given the fundamental change in how society is currently affected. We are developing plans to rebuild services, but Covid-19 remains a threat and this limits what we can do in our hospitals.
“We recognise that the Newry and Mourne community are anxious for the return of their urgent and emergency care services and we are working on how this can be safely provided, both for patients and staff. This will be a complex and challenging process.
“Engagement with the Pathfinder group is underway and we are of course keen to work with you and the local community in managing care now and in the future while Covid-19 remains a public health issue.”
Down News also asked the South Eastern HSC Trust on the position of the Downe Hospital ED re-opening, and a spokesperson for the Trust said: “The Downe Hospital continues to provide a vital part in our response to Covid-19, including the successful rehabilitation of many patients who have had Covid-19 and who have been safely discharged home.
“It remains the Trust’s intention to restore services in the Downe Hospital to pre-Covid-19 levels when appropriate to do so.
“As soon as these plans are finalised, the Trust will be happy to share with our local stakeholders.
“As a first step, we are intending to restart Endoscopy and some other services within the Downe Hospital.”
Eamonn McGrady, Chairman of the Down Community Health Committee, said: “We need now to restore services to the local hospitals and we need now a statement of intent from the Trusts.
“It looks as though the Covid-19 virus is slowing down according to the NI government dashboard yesterday when it showed that the Downe Hospital had processed 94 Covid-19 patients whilst in the same period the City Hospital Nightingale Hospital had processed 99 patients.
“Once again the Downe Hospital has made a great contribution to public health. We now need our services, staff and equipment re-instated.”
South Down MLA Jim Wells expressed his concerns about the future of Daisy Hill Hospital and said: “When Accident and Emergency was transferred from Daisy Hill Hospital to Craigavon, I voiced my concern that the present coronavirus crisis was being used as an opportunity to move this service out of Newry permanently.
“The Minister of Health subsequently told the Health Committee at Stormont that he could not guarantee that services moved as a result of the crisis would be restored after it was over.
“I remain very concerned about the future of this essential service for the people of Newry and Mourne and I will continue to lobby for the return of A and E to Daisy Hill as soon as possible.”