THE long awaited report from the Acute Hospitals Review Group, published this week, has proposed a radical shake up to Northern Ireland’s existing emergency hospital structures.

The report, compiled by Dr Maurice Hayes, recommends a number of radical changes and sets out a vision of where the health service might be in 15 or 20 years time.

One of the main recommendations of the report proposes the closure of A&E services at five hospitals in Northern Ireland – the Mater, Lagan Valley, the Mid Ulster, Omagh and Whiteabbey.

No hospitals will close, but smaller hospitals will lose acute service facilities. The Downe Hospital in Downpatrick where campaigners have fought long to retain maternity services will be disappointed with the closure of inpatient maternity services, although a new Downe hospital is expected to be built at some point in the future.

The Health Minister Bairbre de Brun said: “Clearly, the report puts forward some very substantial and very radical proposals and these, and the associated costs, will have to be considered carefully as part of the Executive’s future Programme for Government. I will wish to discuss these with my colleagues before putting firm proposals forward for consultation.”

Jeffrey Donaldson, MP for Laganvalley has heavily criticised the recommendation of closure of maternity services and A&E services at Laganvalley Hospital saying more women are having their children at the hospital than ever and the removal of these services would be disastrous.

Six hospitals offering emergency care and inpatient maternity services will remain – Antrim Area Hospital in County Antrim, Belfast City, Royal Victoria, Ulster Hospital outside Belfast, Craigavon in County Armagh, Altnagelvin in County Londonderry.

The report also proposes three more hospitals to be included in this group: Daisy Hill hospital in Newry, Causeway Hospital in Coleraine and a new hospital for the South West to be built, most likely located in Enniskillen.

Dr Maurice Hayes, chairman of the report said: “Change there must be, if services are to be maintained and improved, the status quo is not an option.”

Another controversial strand proposes the scrapping of the four major health boards and the creation of a ‘super board’, supported by 3 ‘super trusts’ that would cover the Northern, Southern and Greater Belfast areas.

The Report recommends investment of £1.1 billion over the next 10 years to fund new developments and carry out these proposals. The Report also recommends the urgent development of the emergency ambulance service, substantial investment in IT and substantial increases in the number of consultants, GPs and nurses.

The Group’s view that current waiting times for elective (planned) treatment are entirely unacceptable will be broadly welcomed. It recommends the establishment of new targets with a view to ensuring that by 2010 with no one waiting more than three months for treatment.

The status of the Report is that it makes recommendations on which the Minister will consult widely before coming to a decision. The report now goes into a consultation period and could mean a year before legislative measures are introduced. (AMcE)

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