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20 March 1997 Edition

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Anger at RVH Maternity closure

Hendron accused of political incompetence



By Mick Naughton

``The closure of the Royal Victoria Hospital's world famous neonatal unit has been averted following intensive efforts by Dr Joe Hendron'' boldly proclaimed an SDLP election newsletter delivered through the doors of West Belfast last week.

But on Wednesday 19 March NIO health minister Malcolm Moss announced the closure of the Royal Maternity and its transfer to the City Hospital Tower Block. Anger greeted the news as health workers and citizens of West Belfast took to the streets in protest.

``Of course I am greatly embarrassed at what it says in that election newsheet,'' Hendron said during a lunchtime press conference that same day.

Gerry Adams called on him to ``make a full public apology to the people of West Belfast and the staff and patients of the Royal maternity,'' given the evidence of ``Hendron's gross political incompetence.''

Last week Gerry Adams had said that contrary to Hendron's claims the Tories were set to make another devastating decision which would directly affect not only the people of West Belfast but all those in the North who used the neonatal unit.

Speaking after Wednesday's announcement Consultant Professor Halliday revealed that his opinion not to close the baby unit is supported by 90 top specialists around the world. Halliday warned last October that 50% more babies could die if the Royal maternity was closed.

And ``gutted'' was how Doctor Des Hall responded to the news. Hall, who long campaigned to save the Royal also revealed that Mayhew had gone back on a pledge not to close the unit.

``I reminded him [Mayhew] of a conversation I had with him during a meeting prior to last Christmas (on December 16) when he mentioned that the announcement of closure would not now be taking place. `You have my word' were the words he used. At that meeting were Malcom Moss and eight senior members of staff from his department. Last night, [Tuesday] he rejected saying that. Now, either he is lying or I am lying!

``I am calling for an apology or his resignation,'' said the Ballygomartin based GP.

Liz Barron, head of midwifery in the RVH said little concern was shown to mothers and their newborn babies,''this decision about women was made by men, with little or no female representation,'' she said.

And a furious Professor Gareth McClure of the Belfast Hospital for Sick Children echoed the anger of protesting Unison members who blocked the Grosvenor Road at lunctime saying, ``we will bloody well not be going. Mayhew will have to bloody well bolt the doors.''

McClure's words were fully supported by Gerry Adams.

``I have pledged our party's absolute commitment to the efforts of trade unions, staff and local community groups, such as the West Belfast Health Monitoring Group, who have fought long and hard in defence of the Royal maternity unit. This move makes no clinical or financial sense.''
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