Alliance Representatives have called on parties to explain their opposition to an enhanced, modernised Urgent Care Centre serving the people of the borough and expressed disappointment that those parties are now rowing back from the principles of Health Transformation to which they signed up alongside the Expert Panel chaired by Professor Rafael Bengoa seven years ago.
Speaking after the Council discussed the proposals on Wednesday 22 February, Stephen Farry, MP for North Down, said: “What we saw in Council this evening was a profound rejection of the very principles of the ongoing health transformation process, and of a modernisation which would take pressure off Emergency Departments and provide more efficient care for people across Ards and North Down.
“Despite the dedication of those working in it, the Ards Minor Injuries Unit building and model of service delivery is no longer fit for purpose and is in any case inadequately connected to the rest of the healthcare system, with people often referred to GPs or sent on to the Emergency Department instead.
“This is a classic case, as outlined in the principles all five parties agreed to alongside Professor Rafael Bengoa and his expert panel and which appear in Appendix A of the panel’s review, of elected representatives failing to stand up for the population’s needs and instead preferring to maintain services which are outdated and unsustainable just because of their location.”
Andrew Muir MLA added “I was gobsmacked to watch Councillors speaking out of both sides of their mouth on last Wednesday night, opposing reform and slamming Alliance for being open to the process of change and modernisation in the full knowledge that their party leaders and Health Spokespersons have been consistently on the record backing Bengoa and Health transformation, from which these proposals flow. Our NHS is in crisis, it’s collapsing around us partly because of parish pump politics which has resulted in difficult decisions delayed and dodged. It’s disappointing that whilst Alliance chases better patient outcomes, others choose to try to chase votes and play politics with health. People of Northern Ireland need leadership and politicians up for the tough decisions.”
“The Bengoa Report is clear, any reading of it makes the case for change as proposed, those opposing reform would be wise to read it and reflect upon their stance, whether it be ‘The location and composition of resources should be based on meeting patients’ needs and achieving the best outcomes.’ or ‘Evidence shows that having all the services available on the same site improves the care delivered to the patient and the clinical outcomes’ or ‘The real value of Health and Social Care is in its people, not its buildings.’.”
Newtownards Councillor Vicky Moore added: “It was concerning tonight to see parties whose spokespeople only this month were making the case publicly for transformation rowing away from embracing the change and modernisation we need at tonight’s meeting.
“Most notable was the outrageous and fundamentally erroneous conflation of emergency and urgent care, which are two entirely separate things. Indeed, the proposal to have the people of Ards and North Down served by an Urgent Care Centre will take pressure off the Emergency Department at the Ulster Hospital, precisely because the new centre will operate through the weekends and, unlike current provision, will be consultant led. This is not about sending people to an over-stretched Emergency Department, but is rather the introduction of an entirely new and enhanced Urgent Care facility. It will help ensure only the most severe cases end up at the Emergency Department, easing pressure on the department's hard-pressed staff.
“The Trust now needs to focus on explaining the decision to locate the Urgent Care Centre at the Ulster Hospital and to respond to legitimate concerns around parking and transport. We have long accepted in our public statements on this proposal that there are issues there which need to be addressed, and we will continue to engage constructively with the Trust on them. We are clear the public and elected representatives are right to raise questions about the practical outworking and delivery of these plans, and that it is essential the Trust provides clear communication in return.
“What we will not accept, however, is parties backing down from commitments made to support necessary reforms and embrace the principles of transformation which have been laid out clearly in review after review. The failure to embrace change will only lead to further chaos in our health system, and both patients and health workers deserve much better than that.
“We will continue to support the enhancement and modernisation of healthcare for all the residents of Ards and North Down and encourage the public to read the consultation document in full before making up their minds on this crucial issue.”