A campaign to save services at Causeway Hospital in Coleraine will move up a gear next month with a rally to be held on July 15.
Chair of SOS Causeway campaign Gemma Brolly has spoken of “frustration and dismay over meaningless bureaucratic hoops” to be able to make a presentation to a meeting of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust board on Thursday.
In a statement issued after the meeting, Mrs Brolly said: “The campaign will meet tonight to consider the offer of a meeting with the chief executive and senior officers directly to convey our ever-growing list of concerns. We will also prepare for our upcoming rally where we will urge the public to stand with SOS Causeway and fight for their local hospital services.
“We in the SOS Causeway campaign will fight tooth and nail for our hospital to be treated equally to Antrim or any other. That applies to access to services, recruitment, investment, everything needed to ensure our community have equal access to a high standard of health care.”
The rally is being planned to take place on the hospital site.
In March, following a 14-week public consultation, the Trust approved the recommendation that all hospital births in the Northern Trust area should take place at Antrim Hospital.
A business case for a new £210m women and children’s unit at Antrim Hospital was approved for submission to the Department of Health at the end of November with the Trust board seeking an interim solution for its maternity service. This has been agreed by the Department.
Clinicians advised the Trust the current provision of maternity services at Causeway Hospital is “unsustainable because of falling birth rates, workforce challenges and the absence of neonatal special care baby unit facilities at the hospital”.
The Trust says that NISRA figures suggest that over the next 20 years, the number of births in the Causeway area will fall by 11%. There were 862 births at Causeway Hospital last year.
Speaking at Thursday’s meeting, Mrs Brolly said: “The key point today is to show how you arrived at this decision, the process involved and the next stage.”
She proceeded to highlight concerns in the community over plans for all births in the Northern Trust area to take place at Antrim Hospital.
Mrs Brolly told the meeting there are those living in the Causeway area who would find transport to Antrim Hospital “challenging”. She said there is concern over what to do in an emergency situation, particularly if a baby is coming”very quickly”.
“Women have been asking if they drive to Causeway would they be accepted and helped in Causeway.
“We have great concern over how the consultation has been dealt with. We realise there are legal obligations within that. That is something we wish to hear more on.”
Mrs Brolly also expressed concern over foetal assessment arrangements which she understood had been expected to take place in Causeway and potential for a “life-threatening situation” if this service is switched to Antrim.
“There is concern that if there is a life-threatening situation, You are adding on time to that emergency,” she stated. “We are glad to have the commitment about home births.”
Mrs Brolly also spoke of “hurt” among maternity staff at Causeway whom she did not believe had received notification of the Department of Health’s decision to back the Trust board’s recommendation for all births to take place at Antrim Hospital ahead of the announcement.
She expressed concern over how Antrim Hospital will cope with the “increased pressure”.
She reported that Causeway has taken “overspill” births when Antrim is “under pressure”. She asked if more beds will now be made available at Antrim Hospital.
Mrs Brolly also commented: “There is a very strong sense in the community this is the beginning of the end. We do not want to lose our hospital as it exists. We need a commitment from the Trust to sustain our hospital and not just to sustain it but to improve it.
“We do not feel everything has been addressed. There are a lot of grey areas and issues with lack of communication and lack of transparency.”
Addressing the meeting East Londonderry MLA Maurice Bradley stated: “There will be legal challenges from the pressure group within the Causeway area. As a public body, you should be more responsive to questions Gemma asked. It is just not good enough. You are a public body.”
Mr Bradley asked if discussions have been taking place with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to manage the “added stress” of taking women in labour to Antrim Hospital from the Causeway area.
He also queried the impact of additional pressures on other hospital departments such as A&E, paediatrics, theatres and labs and asked how the decision would impact on Causeway Hospital.
Anne O’Reilly, chair of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust board, said she was “keen not to get into a question and answer discussion”.
She pointed out that there has been a period of consultation. She added: “We do believe this is the best outcome for women and children in our care. We remain of that view.”
She stated operational plans are in place but acknowledged there are “still some unanswered questions”.
“In plans for Antrim and vision for Causeway, I am happy for engage further with our political representatives and Gemma as chair of the campaign group. I want to offer you further engagement with us. I do not want to close down any conversation.”
She stressed there is an offer to meet with the chief executive and colleagues in the Trust. “We are minded to continue communication. We look forward to having further engagement.”