The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust has confirmed that the Accident and Emergency Department at Lagan Valley Hospital will now be closed every weekend.
They have blamed the lack of doctors to cover the A&E and the inability to recruit appropriate staff to ensure the safe continuation of the existing hours.
The decision has been met with outrage in the community and work has begun to form a working group, which will include politicians, trade unionists and members of the public, to tackle the crisis at the hospital.
A spokesperson for the Trust said: “The Trust regrets that opening hours have had to be reduced. This is because the Trust has been experiencing critical medical staffing issues for some weeks. The weekend service at both hospitals relies heavily on locum doctors, and despite exhaustive efforts by the Trust, agencies have been unable to provide sufficient skilled, experienced doctors to sustain the service.
“In addition, existing permanent medical staff have worked numerous additional shifts in an effort to keep the service going, but this is not sustainable.
“The existing GP Out of Hours service on both sites will continue and the Trust will work with GP colleagues to minimise the impact of this change,” she continued. “GPs will also be able to directly admit patients to both hospitals, where appropriate. Patients who are admitted to other hospitals will be transferred back to their local hospital for their continuing care, when it is clinically appropriate to do so.
“Patients who require emergency care, especially those with sudden and acute illness or severe trauma, should go to the Emergency Department at the Ulster Hospital, or their nearest hospital.
“The Trust is clear that there is no better alternative to these changes at this time and has taken this action because we are determined to retain as much access as possible to emergency care services for local people, at their local hospital by compressing opening hours.
“We will be working with the Health and Social Care Board and others to put alternative arrangements in place to address this difficulty as soon as possible,” she concluded.