Only 33 acute admissions to Downe since December 2020

Only 33 acute admissions to Downe since December 2020

14 July 2021

NEW figures have revealed that there has been a significant reduction in admissions to the Downe Hospital following the closure of its emergency department.

Health minister Robin Swann has confirmed that in the six months before the emergency department was closed temporarily at the end of March last year there were 754 acute patients admitted to the hospital.

Between December last year — almost two months after a new consultant-led urgent care centre opened at the Downpatrick hospital — and now, there have only been 33 admissions to wards.

At the end of March last year, the South Eastern Trust temporarily closed the Downe’s ED as part of its planning to deal with an anticipated huge number of patients affected by the coronavirus.

It was hoped that the department would reopen in mid-October last year, but health officials opted to introduce the urgent care centre which patients have to contact first before making their way to the Struell Road facility.

The idea is that medical staff could decide if the patient could be treated locally or would need to be seen by staff at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.

The attendance figures at the Downe’s emergency department were provided by the health minister in a written response to South Down MLA Colin McGrath.

“The figures have laid bare the reality of removing emergency services from the Downpatrick hospital,” the Assemblyman declared.

Mr McGrath confirmed that he recently submitted a written question to Mr Swann, asking how many acute admissions there were from the Downe’s emergency department to the adjoining hospital in the last six months of its operation.

“I also asked how many subsequent admissions there were since December last year and don’t think this is a topic the Health Minister particularly likes to see raised on the floor of the Assembly,” he suggested.

“The facts that the health minister has presented me with make for some startling reading. In the last six months of its operation, there were 754 acute admissions from the Downe’s emergency department to the the hospital wards.

“Since December 2020, since the Downe has been repackaged as an urgent care facility, there have been only 33 acute admissions.”

Mr McGrath said the official figures provided by the health minister reveal the “stark reality” of what happens when an emergency department is removed and replaced with an urgent care facility.

“It just won’t get used,” declared the MLA.

“In addition, there is a wider ripple effect in that we are now displacing thousands of patients to hospitals such as the Lagan Valley in Lisburn and Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, the latter of which posts regular online warnings that its emergency department is overwhelmed and cannot cope with the pressure.”

Mr McGrath said while frontline health staff are doing their utmost to care for patients, the bottom line is that the current system is failing them and urgently needs reformed. 

He added: “The Downe Hospital can play its part in such a reform, but we need the health minister and South Eastern Trust to learn from the lessons of the past.

“They clearly show that when they constantly chip away at hospitals like the Downe, or indeed the Dalriada Hospital in Coleraine which Mr Swann should know more better than anyone else, it has an impact on the local community.”

The South Eastern Trust said that throughout the pandemic, teams across the health and social care system have worked tirelessly to keep our communities safe. 

It said keeping communities safe “is and always will be its top priority” and labelled Mr McGrath’s assertion that when an emergency department is removed and replaced with an urgent care facility “that it just won’t get used” as unhelpful.