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Newry, Mourne and Down Council, Councillors have agreed to write once again to the NI Executive's Minister for Health, Robin Swann, asking for a meeting with him to discuss Daisy Hill and Downe hospital's after a previous letter failed to obtain a meeting.

The letter received from the Minister of Health in reply to a carried notice of motion at the April Council meeting was criticised by Councillors at last Tuesday's monthly Council meeting. The Motion, proposed by Newry City Councillor, Cllr Michael Savage resulted in Council CEO Marie Ward writing to the Minister asking for a commitment from the Department of Health to the retention and expansion of Daisy Hill and Downe Hospital's and asked for an urgent meeting.

Daisy Hill Hospital. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Daisy Hill Hospital. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

In his reply Minister Swann said he was unable to meet with them due to "diary commitments" but noted that the Council "continues to have productive engagement with the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust on a range of important matters, including your recent meeting with the Trust's senior management team. I trust this has provided the necessary clarity and assurance for Council Members about the continued importance of the services provided at Downe Hospital within the Trust."

A lengthy discussion ensued during which Councillors Walker, Hanlon, Sharvin and Owen voiced their disappointment at the correspondence received from the Minister of Health and that he would not meet a delegation from the Council’s Health Working Group.

Councillor Willie Walker said "I'm totally disappointed that the Minister has refused to meet with a delegation or the Working Group from Newry, Mourne and Down Council. This is a very very important issue as you all know. This isn't an attack on the Minister, I actually think he should have met. We are in unprecedented times. I thought he maybe would have made the excuse that because of Covid they couldn't have physical meetings but we are in the era here of Skype or whatever, there still could have been a meeting."

Cllr Walker added "There's numerous issues in relation to Daisy Hill and to the Downe that we need dealt with and I don't believe that we can deal with it by sending emails and sending letters. I believe that the best way to deal with it is with a face to face meeting and put it up to the Minister."

Councillor Oonagh Hanlon proposed Council write back to Minister of Health and ask him to reconsider. Councillor Gareth Sharvin seconded the proposal adding that Council should ask the Minister to identify a date and time that does suit him to meet with a delegation of the Council's Health Working Group. The proposal was unanimously agreed.

Councillor John Trainor stated that depending on the response back from the Minister of Health in relation to attending a meeting, Council should contact the Chair of the Health Committee, as the Daisy Hill Hospital and Downe Hospital were too important to the people of the South East.

Councillor Henry Reilly spoke of a personal experience with the Daisy Hill Hospital and praised all it had to offer as a fully functioning hospital. Councillor Reilly then proposed Council set up a Health Committee.

Cllr Reilly explained "I just wanted to point out how grateful many family's like ours are to have Daisy Hill as a fully functioning hospital and we need to maintain that"

The Chief Executive advised the setting up of Committees required governance and would have to be presented to the Strategy, Policy and Resources Committee. She further advised Council had Health Forums with the Southern and South Eastern Trust which met on a regular basis with senior officers involved.

In response for an update from Councillor Savage regarding a previous action from April Council to invite the Down Community Health Committee and Daisy Hill Pathfinder Group to meet full Council to discuss the challenges and threats to our local hospitals in a post pandemic environment, he was advised Mr Devlin, Assistant Director, Health and Wellbeing was leading on the establishment of that meeting and was in correspondence with Councillor Savage as the proposer of that Motion.

Motion received from Councillor Savage at April's meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council

This Council calls on the Health Minister Robin Swann to reaffirm the Department of Health’s commitment to the retention and expansion of Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry and the retention and expansion of the Down Hospital in Downpatrick. Council notes with concern media reports that there are plans to close half of the hospitals across the North within the next 10 years and calls for clarity from the Minister to allay the fears of residents of this district who have had to fight to retain vital services at our two cherished local hospitals. Council requests that the Council Chief Executive writes to the Health Minister seeking assurances from him that there are no plans to close or downgrade the Down Hospital or Daisy Hill Hospital within the next 10 years or beyond and requests an urgent meeting with the Minister to discuss the future plans for our two local hospitals to seek guarantees that neither of our two local hospitals will be downgraded or closed as part of any future plans for the delivery of healthcare across the North.

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