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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Review of births move from Causeway to Antrim Area Hospital welcomed

ANTRIM Area and Causeway Hospital

The chief executive of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust (NHSCT) reiterated a commitment to review the transition of births from Causeway Hospital in Coleraine to Antrim Hospital.


Speaking at a meeting of the Trust board on Thursday morning, Jennifer Welsh gave an assurance that an evaluation will be carried out after two months following the transition which took place on July 17.



The chief executive was speaking after attending a meeting organised by Causeway Hospital campaigners with Permanent Secretary for Health Peter May earlier this week.


“This is something I offered given the concerns that were raised. Because I have not heard these concerns, I wanted to look into that,” the chief executive said.


However, Trust board members were advised that this will be a “review of the amalgamation arrangement not a review of the decision”.


“I decided that I want a brief internal review that is about making sure the transition is working well and the quality and safety of the service,” the chief executive added.



She went on to say that Causeway remains “a really important part of the Trust’s acute hospital network”.


Suzanne Pullins, the Trust’s Executive Director of Nursing, said that the midwifery team in Causeway is seeing “scheduled”patients for out-patient appointments.


Unscheduled attendance, she explained, takes place at Antrim Hospital which is the “first port of call” for foetal assessment.


A board member asked about delays in inductions or caesarean sections if the maternity unit is “particularly busy”.



He was advised that of 35 women who had their time altered, three were up to 24 hours but all took place within 24 hours.


“We were able to bring everybody in within 24 hours. I think that is very positive," said Suzanne


“August will be a particularly busy month. We know exactly what to expect this month. I am absolutely sure they will manage.”


In response to a query over remoteness during an emergency, members were told that Rathlin is a “well-worn path” with a nurse on the island and “procedures in place”.



“In relation to Causeway, we have been working with the emergency department,” Suzanne said.


Members were told that there is a midwife on call if there is an emergency on the Causeway site with the Trust working with the ambulance service.


Trust board chair Anne O’Reilly said: “Steps have been taken to create as safe a service as possible with pathways, with skill sets, with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and commitment by the chief executive.


“That to me is as much as we can do. I am content with what I have heard.”



A statement issued by Causeway Hospital campaigners has given a cautious welcome to the two-month internal review to be carried out by the Northern Health and Social Care Trust.


The statement said that as a result of concerns raised regarding staff well-being, the advocacy group said that it has been “given a guarantee that the chief executive will personally investigate working conditions of staff”.


The advocacy group thanked East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell for organising the meeting with representations from Gemma Brolly, chair of SOS Causeway Hospital, William Taylor, of Farmers For Action, Dr Owen Finnegan and Dr Fred Mullan.


Mr Campbell referred to the “prime position of Causeway Hospital with great potential to serve its public instead of being treated like the meat in the sandwich” with Altnagelvin and Antrim Area on either side.


Ms Brolly said that she put forward reported concerns over “transition of births, particularly delayed inductions and caesareans as well as staff welfare”.


Ms Brolly also asked for confirmation regarding the future of the Ross Thomson Unit, a mental health facility based at Causeway Hospital.



Mr Taylor asked for an assurance that the concerns of rural families and farming families would be heard, whilst Dr Finnegan and Dr Mullan put forward the case that “bigger is not always better”, the statement said.


“Whilst we are disappointed to hear our concerns are not yet recognised at senior level, we are slightly encouraged by the news that an internal review will take place at the two-month mark. We are also relieved to hear concerns regarding staff well-being will be taken seriously,” the SOS Causeway Hospital group said.


“Whilst we received welcome news on planned enhancement of services within Causeway Hospital, we are always wary of domino effect closures.


“We received confirmation the Ross Thomson Unit will close but engagement with the local community will follow. While this appears like centralisation of yet another vital service, we welcome the much-needed opportunity to inform planning for improved local mental health services in our native area, which are urgently needed.



“SOS Causeway Hospital will continue to advocate for the people of Causeway Coast and Glens to ensure access to the high standard of health care they deserve.”


The Northern Trust said: “The transfer of hospital births from Causeway to Antrim Hospital allows Trust staff to continue providing the highest standard of in-patient maternity care and births at one, dedicated site, with a safer, more sustainable staffing mode.


“The Trust will continue to monitor the arrangements in place to support the reconfiguration, and the Chief Executive has offered to undertake a review, with a focus on both staff and those in our care during the continued period of transition.



“The Trust would encourage all those who want to share their experiences with us to contact the User Feedback Team. This information provides Trust staff with a positive opportunity for continuous learning and improvement.”


Feedback can be provided in a number of ways, including via email to user.feedback@northerntrust.hscni.net, the online form on the Trust’s website or call 028 9442 4655.


With regard to the Ross Thomson facility, the Trust said:


“In September 2020, the Department of Health approved the Trust’s outline business case for the provision of a new 134 single-bedroom Mental Health Inpatient Service (MHIS) on the Antrim Hospital site which would replace in-patient mental health services currently provided in both Holywell Hospital and the Ross Thomson Unit.”

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