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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Former Health Minister ‘deeply disappointed’ as rehabilitation unit to close at Whiteabbey

Ulster Unionist MLA and former Minister of Health Robin Swann has said he is deeply disappointed by the news that the rehabilitation unit at Whiteabbey Hospital is to close.

Northern Health and Social Care Trust (NHSCT) confirmed today, Monday 9th January, that the former Nightingale facility has been earmarked for closure after no funds have been made available to keep the now repurposed rehabilitation unit open.

A spokesperson for the NHSCT commented:

“The Whiteabbey Nightingale Enhanced Therapies and Rehabilitation Unit on the Whiteabbey Hospital site was first commissioned in Nov 2020 as a regional post-COVID stepdown service.


“The 23-bed unit has since transitioned to become a regional fractures / general rehabilitation facility and has been operating successfully as such, with evidence of strong outcomes and an average length of stay consistently below 14 days.


“Funding was allocated by the Department of Health to retain the provision until the end of the current financial year. However, reflecting wider budgetary pressures, no recurrent funding source has been identified beyond the end of March 2023. As a result the unit now requires to be wound down on a phased basis, with final closure at the end of March 2023.


“Staff and their representatives will be met with under the Trust’ Management of Change process to consider alternative employment either on the Whiteabbey Hospital site or elsewhere within the Trust.


“The NHSCT was honoured to host this regional service which was commissioned and funded by the DoH and we are proud of the outcomes achieved for the patients who availed of this service.  


“Over the past few months we have been working up a long-term community bed model and we plan to go out to formal consultation on this model early in the next financial year. The future of bed-based services on the Whiteabbey site will form part of the overarching community bed model.


“Community beds are a vital part of our patient journey in that they afford the opportunity for patients to avail of a period of assessment or rehabilitation in bed-based facilities to maximise their personal abilities often following a period of acute hospitalisation.”

Responding to the news, former health minister Robin Swann said:

"I initially opened the Nightingale Unit at Whiteabbey Hospital in November 2020 in response to the growing pressures of the pandemic. Thankfully in April 2021, after the number of Covid-19 related hospitalisations eased off the unit could be stood down. 

"Due to the overwhelming success of the unit however, as well as the specialist staffing that now existed on the site, it was decided to retain the facility as a Enhanced Rehabilitation Unit taking referrals from across Northern Ireland. 

"It's therefore deeply and bitterly disappointing that the unit is to close so soon after just being repurposed, and despite it being a high performing unit. 

"This is exactly the sort of short-term decision that shouldn't be being taken at a time of immense pressures across our health and social care system. Efficient units such as that at Whiteabbey are essential in freeing up other hospital beds in our acute settings.

"Yet this decision will only make it more difficult and take more time for patients to receive the proper rehabilitation care and support that they receive."

Mr Swann added:

"Whilst this is a clear consequence of there being no agreed sustainable or recurrent budget in place, if a deal could be reached in the coming weeks then perhaps there could be time for this decision to be reversed ahead of its planned closure at the end of March.

"If no political deal is reached however I fear this will not be the only retrograde decision taken in the months ahead."


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