Downe Hospital: Hundreds protest at reduced A&E services
Several hundred people have attended a meeting in County Down to show their opposition to reduced accident and emergency services in the area.
Since January, Downe Hospital in Downpatrick no longer provides emergency care at night or at weekends.
A shortage of emergency doctors has been blamed for the move. The Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn, County Antrim, is also affected.
The meeting was held in St Patrick's Grammar School in Downpatrick.
A local farmer who attended the meeting said his animals get a better service than people in the area.Campaigning
John Carson said: "There have been so many accidents on farms recently that we need all the services that we can get.
"Believe it or not my animals have got a better service than we have got at present. If I go to call a vet I can get one in 15-20 minutes, whereas we on the farm, or any other local person in the area, could have to wait at least an hour before we arrive at accident and emergency."
The meeting was organised by Downe Community Health Committee, an organisation that is campaigning for 24-hour emergency care to be reinstated in the area.
Committee member Eamonn McGrady said: "This was reported at Christmas time as being a temporary measure, an emergency, a temporary closure. We want that service reinstated and reinstated now.
"The people who use that service and who need to see a doctor, a middle-grade doctor, in A&E in Downpatrick, are now travelling to the Ulster Hospital, the Royal, or whatever to get seen.
"So why not send those doctors back to Downpatrick to see the people in a convenient location in a very modern, five-year-old hospital."
The area's MP, Margaret Ritchie of the SDLP, and a number of MLAs spoke at the meeting.
Ms Ritchie said the South Eastern Trust and Health Minister Edwin Poots "have failed to address the problem in the shortage of A&E doctors, despite being aware of this problem for over three years".