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1 December 2014 Edition

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Sinn Féin MLAs at heart of hospitals campaign

• Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay with members of the 'Save the Dal' campaign group at Stormont

While Health Minister Jim Wells was telling campaigners at Stormont he’d consider their objections, his department was contacting Dalriada Hospital to start closing the MS respite unit

SINN FÉIN is at the heart of campaigns to save local and community hospitals earmarked for closure across the North.

In Antrim, Tyrone and Down, communities have mobilised, with the full support of Sinn Féin, against proposals from DUP Health Minister Jim Wells to close hospital wards and care units.

More than 1,000 people attended a protest meeting in Ballycastle against plans to close a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) respite unit at Dalriada hospital. Sinn Féin MLAs Daithí McKay and Oliver McMullan have been to the fore in the ‘Save the Dal’ campaign, which has been taken from Rathlin to Stormont.

In Tyrone, West Tyrone MLA Barry McElduff and Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA Bronwyn McGahan have led campaigns against proposals to close beds in community hospitals in Omagh and Dungannon.

In Down, Chris Hazzard has been involved in community protests against plans to close beds in the Downe Hospital in Downpatrick.

Daithí McKay said the entire community in north Antrim is united to oppose the Dalraida closure plans.

“More than a thousand people from right across the community attended the public meeting in Skeskburn House, Ballycastle, against plans to close Dalriada Hospital and the MS respite unit.

“This showed the sheer depth of feeling in the area against these unnecessary closures.

“Dalriada Hospital is an essential part of the local community and has served people well for many years.

“The local community has joined together to send a clear message that they will not accept the closure of Dalriada Hospital,” he said.

Daithí McKay and Oliver McMullan also met with representatives of the MS Society to discuss the implications of the proposed closure.

They also hosted a group from the campaign, which included more than 100 people at Stormont and facilitated a meeting between representatives of group and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

While the group was at Stormont, Health Minister Jim Wells came out and addressed them through a megaphone, claiming he would consider their objections to the proposals, a statement he repeated in the Assembly. At the same time, however, officials from Jim Wells’s department was contacting Dalriada Hospital to make plans to start closing the MS respite unit.

Daithí McKay accused the Health Minister of misleading the Assembly.

“I regard that as being totally unacceptable. He should come to the floor of the Assembly and apologise for his remarks,” he said.

In Dungannon, Bronwyn McGahan has been centrally involved in the campaign against the proposed closure of Loane House. She collected more than 8,000 signatures in the local area against the planned closure and presented the petition to the Assembly. The Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA also secured an adjournment debate in the Assembly on the issue.

“The proposed closure of Loane House in Dungannon has caused significant concern and anger in the local community.

“Loane House contains 45 non-acute hospital beds, eight of which are used for stroke patients.

“It provides a vital service in the Dungannon area,” she said.

In Omagh, Barry McElduff successfully challenged plans to merge palliative care and rehabilitation wards at the Tyrone County Hospital, forcing the Western Trust to abandon the proposals following a grassroots campaign.

“This proposal was insensitive, inappropriate and unnecessary. It caused considerable anger in the local community and, thankfully, the Western Trust listened to the voice of the people and abandoned this plan.”

The West Tyrone MLA vowed to continue the campaign to protect frontline health services in the Omagh area.

“We are concerned about the retention of Acute Mental Health Services at the Tyrone County Hospital. And we are determined to make sure that the maximum range of services will be in the new local enhanced hospital, which is to open in 2016.

“We do not want any diminution of services at the Tyrone County Hospital as a prelude to the new hospital opening.”

Chris Hazzard said Jim Wells is failing the people of South Down with his plans to close Downe Hospital in Downpatrick

“We know that a scandalous amount of money (more than £30million) has been paid out in bonuses to senior staff within the health system in recent years. Surely this is an area where the Health Minister could explore the potential for savings?

“Instead, we have a local South Down minister who is not prepared to stand-up for local frontline services."

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