Downe A&E to reopen

Downe A&E to reopen

29 July 2020

THE Downe Hospital’s emergency department is to reopen in October.

Closed at the end of March as part of the South Eastern Trust’s emergency planning to deal with the coronavirus crisis, the service will reopen in three months’ time.

The news has been confirmed by the South Eastern Trust and welcomed by hospital campaigners and local politicians who last week issued a joint call for the immediate restoration of the service during a meeting in Downpatrick.

Health officials have always insisted that the emergency department would reopen and that its closure was only temporary. But there was concern locally that the South Eastern Trust had been unable to provide a definitive date when this would happen.

Trust officials — who gave a commitment to outline the date at the end of this month — have confirmed that emergency services will recommence on October 19 and operate between 8am and 8pm from Monday to Friday.

In addition, a new daily minor injuries unit opens for business on August 10 at the Downpatrick hospital, operating on an appointment only basis with patients required to ring ahead for an appointment. The Downe’s GP out-of-hours service is also continuing as normal.

While the planned reopening of the emergency department has been warmly welcomed, health officials say they are continuing to manage Covid-19 and that all plans remain subject to a number of critical factors.

These include workforce availability, adequate supplies of personal and protective equipment, the potential impact of further surges of coronavirus and managing safety and risk for patients, service users and staff.

The South Eastern Trust has also referenced concern about the “circulation of information which may be inaccurate and misleading to the local community” and reaffirmed its commitment to the Downe Hospital.

“The hospital continues to play a vital role in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Trust would like to thank the local community for the support and appreciation offered to our dedicated staff, who continue to work tirelessly to protect and care for the health and wellbeing of our population,” a spokeswoman added.

Health officials say they are working to rebuild health and social care services in accordance with the Department of Health’s ‘strategic framework for rebuilding health and social care services,’ explaining that as they do this, their absolute priority remains keeping patients, service users and staff safe.

South Down MP Chris Hazzard, who organised last week’s meeting in Downpatrick to press for the urgent return of the emergency department and other services, described confirmation of the date for the restoration of emergency care as a “positive outcome to the recent community campaign to protect local services.”

The MP also accused the South Eastern Trust of performing a “U-turn” in relation to the reinstatement of emergency services.

He continued: “Only a number of weeks ago the Trust insisted that it was not possible to give a date for the restoration of emergency services but, following several heated exchanges with local political representatives and a five party meeting with trade unions and the Down Community Health Committee last week, the Trust has now performed a u-turn and announced that the service will be reopen on October 19.

“This is welcome news for our community which, for too long, has been without the necessary services in our hospital. It is also a very powerful illustration of what can be achieved if our community stands together in the interests of our local hospital and the wonderful staff at the Downe.” 

Mr Hazzard said that in the months ahead, all political parties, trade union representatives, hospital campaigners and the health trust will work together to deliver for the Downe.

The MP added: “I want to thank the local community for rallying to this issue in recent weeks and extend a huge message of solidarity to those members of staff at the Downe who have worked tirelessly in very difficult circumstances in recent times.”

The Down Community Health Committee said while the reopening date is later than it might have wished and is subject to other factors, it is to be welcomed.

“The Downe is a tremendous facility for the local community and recent investments in the hospital and those that are planned in the not too distant future will enable it to deliver even more and better services for our community and, indeed, across the region,” campaigners said in a statement.

“We must all continue to be watchful to ensure that the Department of Health does not attempt to introduce any change to healthcare provision without full consultation with the local community and its representatives.”

Campaigners say they welcome the manner in which local politicians have come together and exerted their not inconsiderable influence in connection with the return of emergency services.

Campaigners add: “There is still a great deal to be done to further protect, enhance and develop the services currently on offer at the Downe. Working together, there is much that can be achieved. 

“We pay tribute to the excellent medical and support staff at the Downe for their tireless work for our community and to South Eastern Trust managers who have been able to deliver this excellent news.”

The telephone number for the new minor injuries unit is 02844 838091