Health Minister Edwin Poots has insisted the DUP remains committed to 24 hour access at the Lagan Valley Hospital.
The commitment comes after Down DUP Councillor Billy Walker called for the complete closure of Lagan Valley A&E at a public meeting in Ballynahinch on the future of the Downe Hospital.
“DUP Councillors do not set policy,” said Mr Poots. “Our commitment to the Lagan Valley remains steadfast.
“That is the DUP policy and it will remain the DUP policy.”
However, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said the difference of opinions shows a division in the DUP.
“I was a panellist at last Tuesday’s public meeting in Ballynahinch on the future of services at the Downe Hospital, where Mr Poots’s colleague, Councillor Billy Walker from Down Council, called for the outright closure of the Lagan Valley A&E,” said Mr Nesbitt.
“Clearly, this is in stark contrast to what his own Minister is calling for. Yet again, this undermines the Trust and confidence that is so sadly lacking in the political leadership of our health service.”
Mr Nesbitt also said he was “deeply shocked” at the decision taken recently to close the Lagan Valley Hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department at the weekends.
Lisburn UUP Councillor Alexander Redpath said he welcomed the Health Minister’s support for the Lagan Valley but was concerned about others in the party undermining that position.
“Whilst I welcome Edwin Poots support for Lagan Valley A&E I am disturbed to note that other members of the DUP are undermining his position,” said Mr Redpath.
“We cannot engage in divide and rule tactics to protect A&E services.
“We cannot protect local services by advocating closures in another area. We need a holistic review of A&E services in response to the current crisis in the health service.”
Mr Redpath continued: “The shortage of junior doctors has been cited as the reason behind Lagan Valley’s reduced opening hours.
“I appreciate that it takes several years to train junior doctors but I would be keen to know what steps have been taken to increase intake and attract junior doctors from other jurisdictions. If these measures have been taken I would be keen to know the timescale within which we can expect an increase in Lagan Valley A&E’s opening hours.
“If there isn’t a clear timescale for the extension of opening hours at the Lagan Valley local people could be forgiven for thinking the Trust are trying to close Lagan Valley A&E altogether by stealth.”