HUNDREDS of protestors marched in Coleraine on Saturday against cuts to maternity services at Causeway Hospital.
It was recommended last month that all births in the Northern Health Trust area take place at Antrim Area Hospital, but those taking part in Saturday’s event say they are worried it will mean other services at Causeway will no longer be viable.
The Department of Health’s permanent secretary Peter May said the decision was taken to “ensure safe, consistent and sustainable care for mothers and babies in the trust area”.
Holding placards and chanting “Save our services, save Causeway maternity,” the protest was organised by the SOS Causeway Hospital campaign group, with support from SOS Daisy Hill Hospital group.
Chairwoman Gemma Brolly said that the group’s voice had been ignored throughout the consultation process.
“Today is about giving people an opportunity to have their voices heard,” she said.
“As well as that we want to send a very strong message that we will act, we will stand up to do all that we can to retain all that we have here – that includes the emergency department, paediatrics, ICU, all within our hospital."
“We would like to see investment and our hospital being treated on an equal basis with all other hospitals.”
She added that families in rural areas near Coleraine who now face a longer journey felt they were being treated like second-class citizens.
“They pay the same rates, the same taxes, why not be treated on an equal basis when it comes to healthcare and maternity care?”
After meeting representatives from the Northern Trust on Friday, Ms Brolly said she was hopeful for better communication in the future.
“We pressed for a long-term plan in writing, something that will give the community faith that our hospital is not going to be swiped from below us,” she said.
If you are pregnant and spending time on the North Coast over the holidays, a reminder that from Mon 17 July, all hospital births in our Trust area will take place at Antrim Area Hospital.— Northern Trust (@NHSCTrust) July 12, 2023
Please visit our website for more info and FAQs ➡️ https://t.co/7krYEkkiAg pic.twitter.com/2tVCDMenEs
“This is about the broader picture, across this country we are having essential services stripped from our hospitals and we are not going to stand by and allow that to happen.
“We want to stand up here today, show people pressure and say we are here to stay, we will continue fighting, we will take to the streets again if we need to, to protect our hospital.”
The DUP’s East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell also joined in the protest.
“It is a first-class small hospital but it is under threat because the maternity services have finished and will start in Antrim on Monday,” he said.
“The concern is that there could be a potential future threat to the overall hospital itself, so our campaign has been to ensure that whatever services need to be put into the hospital are put in, if they are going to move maternity out, they need to provide information about what is going to replace it to make it a viable long-term hospital.”
Concerns had been raised about the sustainability of services in Coleraine Hospital, where birth rates were lower as well as difficulties in recruiting and training consultants for the maternity unit.
The change in services is only to relate to births, with antenatal and postnatal clinics being retained and enhanced at Causeway.
With an over reliance on locum and temporary staff, the Department said that providing consistent care for expectant mothers was more challenging.
At Antrim Area Hospital, the plans will also expand the capacity for maternity services.