Northern Ireland

Belfast City Hospital A&E to close in November

Union members protest outside Belfast City Hospital
Image caption Union members accused the trust of a "knee-jerk reaction"

It has been confirmed that the accident and emergency department at Belfast City Hospital will close on 1 November.

The chief executive of the Belfast health trust told a meeting of the trust board on Wednesday that the move was not funding-led but safety-led.

Originally the unit had been expected to close at the end of September. The extension of the deadline was facilitated by the loan of two A&E consultants from the Ulster hospital.

Unions have criticised the decision.

The BBC's health correspondent Marie-Louise Connolly said trust chief executive Colm Donaghy made the announcement to the board shortly after 10:00 BST. The meeting became heated at times.

"In a room packed with union representatives members of the board were told that under the current system patient safety could not be guaranteed," she said.

'Monumental failure'

"The trust's chairman threatened to take the meeting elsewhere after union members demanded to have their opinions heard.

"In response to being told the board had to keep to the rules of standing orders, a union representative said that while standing orders were important, so were lives."

The union members accused the trust of a "knee-jerk reaction" and described the decision to close the hospital's A&E as "a monumental failure of strategic management".

There were calls of "shame on you" as the meeting ended and one union representative made the comment "who would have thought an A&E unit would have needed doctors and nurses to run it".

Mr Donaghy insisted the move was temporary.

"I would give an assurance to the public that we will have an open and transparent debate with them," he said.

"The decision is because of patient safety issues and they are real. It's not that we are wasting time, it's because we want to save lives not lose lives."

'Lack of planning'

Patrick Mulholland from the Nipsa union criticised the move and said he believed the decision was a step towards the final closure of the A&E.

"I think what was clear in there was a complete lack of planning for the future of the A&E unit," he said.

"It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that you need doctors and nurses to run an A&E unit and I think the manager's there need to look at themselves and consider how they are operating."

About 42,000 people visited the City's A&E department last year.

Originally the unit had been expected to close at the end of September - but concerns about the impact that would have on other units led to the postponement.

Campaigners have argued that the other two casualty facilities in Belfast, at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Mater Hospital, do not have sufficient resources to deal with the overflow from the City.

Mr Poots has conceded that the closure of the City could pose problems for the capacity of the infrastructure at the other two hospitals.

But he has also stressed that there are neither the financial nor staffing resources to sustain three separate A&E departments within a few miles of each other.

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