Minor Injuries campaigners lose battle to keep weekend opening times
OPENING hours at South Tyrone Hospital’s Minor Injuries Unit (MIU) will be reduced at the weekend within weeks, despite a major campaign opposing the move by politicians and health campaigners.
Members of the public will now only be able to attend at the unit - which is apparently the busiest across the north - between the hours of 10am and 6pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
At present, the MIU in Dungannon opens from 9am until 9pm, Monday to Friday, and, according to local MP, Michelle Gildernew, who expressed deep disappointment at the decision, unless the local community are better informed of when they can access the service, there are real fears opening hours will be cut even further.
The Southern Health and Social Care Trust, however, which announced the decision following a Trust Board meeting on Thursday morning, insists people have “nothing to fear” from the new opening times.
In a statement, Trust Chief Executive, Mairead McAlinden, explained the viability of retaining opening hours between the hours of 8pm and 9pm from Monday to Friday, will be assessed until March 2013.
Stating that the new weekend opening hours will start from October 1, Ms McAlinden continued: “We took our decision in March based on the number of people attending the Minor Injuries Unit in the last three years. A clear trend emerged which showed that, for at least the last three years, not enough people have been using the service at certain hours over the weekend and in the evenings to make it sustainable.
“We listened to the concerns of local people and their representatives during the consultation process and we changed our original proposals to respect those concerns. After the consultation had ended, we continued to meet with local groups on a regular basis to discuss their concerns and respond to their queries.
“While I fully appreciate that people may be concerned by the changes to the Minor Injuries Unit, it is only a minor change - the Unit will still be open 7 days a week but open at the weekend, at times when most people are using the service.
“Minor Injuries Units only treat people with minor ailments like sprains, cuts and scalds. People with serious or emergency health conditions like chest pains or seizures won’t be affected by these changes as they cannot be treated at a Minor Injuries Unit and should always go to their nearest emergency department.
“The Minor Injuries Unit provides an excellent service but it is costly to run – nearly £1.2 million per year - so we have to make sure it is very well used when it is open.
“The public is very aware of the many competing demands on health spending because our population is growing and needs are increasing as people are living longer. We have to do more with the same or less money – the same as the people who are using our services.”
The Trust Chief Executive pointed to recent investments in “new and improved services” at South Tyrone Hospital, including a new Day Hospital and refurbishment of Loane House.
Another £500,000 is also due to be spent this year on a new decontamination unit at the Hospital for endoscopy procedures.
“The new Rapid Access Clinic cares for older people referred by their GP who need to be seen within 24-72 hours but don’t need to be admitted to hospital”, Ms McAlinden added. “South Tyrone Hospital is also the bowel screening centre for the entire Trust. We remain committed to improving and developing those services at the hospital which will be of greatest benefit to local people.”
The MIU’s new weekend opening hours were described as “very disappointing” by Fermanagh-South Tyrone MP, Michelle Gildernew, however.
She told the Times that, despite a “very strong campaign” by politicians from all parties along with hospital campaigners, the Trust’s decision on Thursday appeared to be “a done deal”.
“All the political parties were totally united behind this campaign and were speaking with one voice”, Ms Gildernew explained.
“I was very disappointed and disillusioned that we couldn’t persuade the Board to maintain the opening hours as they are at present.”
The Sinn Fein MP said she wished to send a strong message to members of the public living in the Dungannon and surrounding areas that, unless they continue to use the MIU to its best advantage, it may well be at risk of being removed.
“We could see further slippage of hours, so the message I would like to send to people is, ‘Use it or lose it!’”, she said. “We need to do more to educate people about the opening hours and the Trust needs to do more to market those hours.
“People know that Craigavon Hospital is open 24 hours a day but they need to be aware that if they have a minor injury, they could be seen and treated in Dungannon, on average, within 24 minutes. Compare that with the waiting times for Craigavon Hospital, which can be anything from four to eight hours at busy times.
“South Tyrone MIU is the busiest of all the units in the north and sees a quarter of all minor injuries across the north every year, it is a quality service and people have access to the full range of diagnostic services.”
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Friday 24 May 2013
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