The people of Lisburn and surrounding areas have been urged to speak up in support of retaining hospital services in the local area.
With consultation on the proposed criteria for reconfiguring Northern Ireland’s health and social care services due to end next week, members of the public are being urged to voice their support for vital services to be retained at Lagan Valley Hospital.
Health Minister Michelle O’Neill has stressed that changes are necessary in order to safeguard the future of a system that’s “at breaking point”, but local political representatives are keen to ensure that that doesn’t mean cutting local services and centralising them in Belfast.
Dozens of people attended a public meeting at Trinity Community Venue last week to discuss the criteria set out in the Bengoa Report, which looks at ways to deliver a sustainable, high quality health and social care system in the future.
Among those who attended the meeting with senior health service officials, including the Chief Medical Officer, were Lagan Valley MLA Robbie Butler and his Ulster Unionist Party colleague Cllr Alexander Redpath.
Both men have expressed concerns about the proposed criteria for change, with Cllr Redpath branding it “a charter for centralising hospital services in Belfast.”
“Whilst we welcome the fact that quality of care is at the heart of the proposals, I have serious concerns about the focus on cost and availability of junior doctors when assessing if services are sustainable,” the Killultagh representative said.
“We have repeatedly been told that this process is not a cost cutting exercise and yet cost is one of the key criteria under consideration. Also the consultation seems to suggest that services will be tailored to the availability of junior doctors when we should be investing in recruiting and training enough junior doctors to deliver the services we want.
“It is vital that local people, especially those who use Lagan Valley Hospital, respond to this consultation. It is vital that the Department include in their criteria the ability of local people to conveniently access services. There is a clear clinical benefit to be treated close to your home, in a familiar environment and close to your family support network. This needs to be recognised in the criteria that will determine future services.”
Stressing that he is committed to safeguarding services at Lagan Valley Hospital, Mr Butler said: “I understand that standing still is no longer an option, and as such I agree with localising services where possible and centralising where medically necessary. But I am adamant that this should not turn into a money saving exercise which puts patients’ safety at risk. After all, Professor Bengoa himself said this is not about saving money, but saving lives.
“I have concerns with the wording of the criteria, in that, I have been contacted by medical professionals and service users who, having read the consultation, are left with more questions than answers. The Lagan Valley A&E previously lost its 24-hour capacity despite Ministerial assurance that it would only be a temporary measure. For this reason I believe that we need to be vigilant and across the detail of any departmental or ministerial directive.”
Acknowledging that the current acute configuration across the region is not sustainable and that changes to service models will be required, a spokesperson for the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust said: “The Trust has faced a number of service sustainability challenges in recent years. Staff have responded to these challenges by developing innovative models of care and the Trust has supported these developments year on year. The Trust’s strategy for the development of the Lagan Valley Hospital continues to focus on increasing the range and number of services, including the provision of the Lisburn Primary and Community Care Centre.
“The Trust is confident that, regardless of any future challenges to service sustainability, Lagan Valley Hospital will continue to make a significant contribution to the care needs of the local population.”
Full details of the public consultation process, which runs until Friday, January 20, are available online at www.health-ni.gov.uk