Widely feared changes have come to pass as the South Eastern Health Trust confirmed weekend closures are in place for A&E departments at Downe and Lagan Valley hospitals.
Reduced opening hours will come into place from Saturday January 4, which the trust says is due to a shortage of doctors.
Both emergency departments will be closed on Saturday and Sunday until further notice and will operate from 8am – 8pm Monday to Friday.
This represents no change to the Lagan Valley week-day hours, while the Downe A&E had been open until 10pm.
“The trust regrets that opening hours have had to be reduced,” a spokeswoman said. “This is because the trust has been experiencing critical medical staffing issues for some weeks. The weekend service at both hospitals relies heavily on locum doctors, and despite exhaustive efforts by the trust, agencies have been unable to provide sufficient skilled, experienced doctors to sustain the service.
“In addition, existing permanent medical staff have worked numerous additional shifts in an effort to keep the service going, but this is not sustainable.”
The existing GP out of hours service on both sites will continue and the trust will work with GP colleagues to minimise the impact of this change.
GPs will also be able to directly admit patients to both hospitals, where appropriate. Patients who are admitted to other hospitals will be transferred back to their local hospital for their continuing care, when it is clinically appropriate to do so.