A war of words has erupted after a councillor from Down District Council denied accusations he called for the closure of Lagan Valley Hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department.
It was reported that, at a recent meeting about the Downe Hospital, Councillor Billy Walker said the Lagan Valley A&E should be closed permanently.
The claim came from Ulster Unionist leader Mr. Mike Nesbitt but Mr Walker has denied making such a statement.
“I totally refute the allegation made by Mike Nesbitt that I called for the complete closure of Lagan Valley A&E, and that the DUP are at odds on the issue,” said Mr Walker.
“Firstly, at the meeting in Ballynahinch on March 11 my comments where that it was suggested by health officials that the Downe & Lagan Valley Hospitals A&E are only operating at 125% capacity when doctors are on duty at both hospitals.
“I made the suggestion that as the Downe was in a rural area we should maybe look at utilising the pool of doctors there more at weekends thus hopefully enabling it to open full time and the surplus doctors could be used at the Lagan Valley, enabling it to open part time at weekends as the Lagan Valley is only ten minutes up the motorway from Belfast.”
“I would like to make it clear in the strongest possible terms that I have never, ever called for the outright closure of the Lagan Valley A&E, and to do so would be outrageous as the good people of Ballynahinch also use the Lagan Valley and this area is now included in my new electoral area.
“My position on the A&E in both hospitals is clear; we need to lobby the South Eastern Trust to make sure that A&E is restored 24/7 to both hospitals.
“I have always made it clear that this problem was not been created by the Health Minister but by the South Eastern Health Trust and that they are not fit for purpose and should resign as the public has lost confidence in them.
“Finally I think it its rich of Mr Nesbitt to swan into parts of his constituency once in a blue moon and issue statements containing half-truths maybe he should be looking into comments his own collages have been saying on the issue.”
However, Mr Nesbitt and Lisburn Councillor Alexander Redpath have stood by the accusation, saying that many independent witnesses heard the comments being made. “Councillor Walker’s comments were made in front of a meeting of over 100 people,” said Mr Redpath.
“There were independent panellists who took exception to his statements, including the representative from the trade union Unison. I have spoken to the Unison representative who is happy to confirm that Mr Walker called for the closure of Lagan Valley A&E.
“If Councillor Walker feels he has been misinterpreted then I fear that this misinterpretation was made by the room at large.”