Hundreds of people joined a weekend rally calling for the retention of the acute Stroke Unit in Daisy Hill Hospital – though the Health Minister said it will not change the decision to move it.
Newry and Mourne District Council had called on locals to give their support to Daisy Hill Hospital by joining in the rally on Saturday.
The protest focused on the decision by the Southern Health and Social Care Trust to close the Daisy Hill unit in favour of centralising acute stroke services at Craigavon Area Hospital.
Speaking at the rally, SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie urged Health Minister Jim Wells to enter into a North/South protocol with the minister for health in Dublin to ensure stroke patients from counties Louth and Monaghan can avail of stroke-based services in Newry.
In a statement released yesterday, she called on the southern health board and Mr Wells “to reverse their decision to centralise acute stroke services at Craigavon Hospital”.
She added: “This purge by the Department of Health and the Southern Health Trust against locally-based health and medical services which is not based on the medical needs of people within the community has to stop.
“The Southern Health Trust has advised that it wishes to ensure that any reconfigured hospital-based stroke service is accessible to patients and their families.
“For the people of Newry and Mourne and particularly those hard to reach rural communities in the Upper Mournes, the best place for them to receive specialist acute and rehabilitation stroke care is in the Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry.”
Miss Ritchie added: “The people of Newry and Mourne have spoken with one voice – hands off our acute stroke unit.”
Mr Wells (also an MLA for South Down) said, however: “I want to be absolutely emphatic, as someone who represents that area – that decision is going ahead.
“Acute stroke services will be moved to Craigavon. That decision has been made.
“I know politicians sometimes can beat about the bush, I am making it absolutely clear to you – there will be no change in that position. None at all.”
The reason, he said, was that the Royal College of Surgeons and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence had told him there was a “25 per cent better chance of being alive if you have a stroke in a specialist unit than in an ordinary A&E hospital”.
He added: “This will save lives. That’s why it has to be done.”
He said the move will not be until the new unit at Craigavon is up and running, which could be two years away.
He also stressed that patients with strokes will still be seen at Daisy Hill, and that only specialist acute care will have to take place at Craigavon, with patients able to return to Daisy Hill to recuperate afterwards.