Northern Ireland

Downe Hospital A&E future to be decided

Accident and emergency department
Image caption The future of accident and emergency cover is likely to be decided

The future of accident and emergency cover at the Downe Hospital is likely to be decided later on Wednesday.

The South Eastern Health Trust is also due to announce changes to mental health services at the same public meeting.

The meeting in Downpatrick follows a period of public consultation which started before the summer.

In June when senior members of the trust put the plans to people in County Down, there were strong objections.

Some of this came from local doctors, who claimed they had not been contacted.

The proposals are to include GPs to cover-out-of hour A&E services at the Downe, and to move acute inpatient mental health services from the Downe in Downpatrick and the Ulster in Dundonald to the Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn.

It is expected the trust will finally decide the future of these services, and sources believe the trust is unlikely to deviate from its original proposals.

The South Eastern Trust has previously argued that unless there are changes to health care provision in the trust some units like A&E at the Downe might have to close.


Chairman of Down District Council Eamonn O'Neill said the council are very concerned about the proposals being made.

"The numbers they are using to justify the A&E services plans, it's all predicated on there being enough support for local GPs which there doesn't appear to be," he said.

"To be honest the whole thing is short on detail and clarity as far as I'm concerned.

"At the latest meeting we asked the trust chief executive and his team who assured us everything would be done to find staff but after a freedom of Information request we find there has only been one round of recruitment."

Chief executive of the trust Hugh McCaughey said the freedom of information request only covered the recruitment of doctors in the middle grades.

"So far looking for those middle grades, as in the grades below consultant level, through the local press and medical journals has cost us £35,000 without bringing us a single suitable candidate," he said.

"The bit the council haven't picked up on is that we are constant contact with agencies in order to find doctors."

Mr McCaughey admitted the trust was having recruitment difficulties.

"There are insufficient middle grade doctors across the UK and Ireland and redeploying staff will not change that," he said.

"We are mindful that unless we change the model at Downe we will not be able to staff the A&E.

"We have a lot of confidence in the new model we are proposing which will give us the staffing at night and therefore prevent us from having to close the department."

The new Downe Hospital opened its doors to patients in June 2009, at a cost of £64m.

With a staff of more than 300 it provides inpatient services, including mental health and dementia services, a consultant-led emergency department, day procedure unit, outpatients, rehabilitation and maternity services.