First stage cleared in battle to halt closure of MS unit at Dalriada Hospital

Philamena McKay, MS facility user
Philamena McKay, MS facility user

A multiple sclerosis sufferer has cleared the first stage in her legal battle to halt the temporary closure of Northern Ireland’s only dedicated respite unit for patients with the debilitating condition.

Philomena McKay was granted leave at the High Court on Thursday to seek a judicial review of the cuts being imposed at Dalriada Hospital in Ballycastle, Co Antrim.

Lawyers for the Cushendun woman are also set to urge a judge to order that a ‘no new admissions’ position should be lifted until the action is ultimately decided.

Backed by others who use the facilities, Mrs McKay issued proceedings after the Northern Health and Social Care Trust announced the MS unit will close at the end of November until March next year.

The decision was said to have been taken as part of a financial rebalancing programme.

According to the trust alternative respite options will be made available.

Mrs McKay, 54, has been living with the neurological condition for 29 years and has used the Dalriada unit for several years.

Her legal team have based their challenge on claims that no proper consultation with staff and patients was carried out before the temporary closure decision was taken.

In court today counsel for the Trust did not oppose the granting of leave to apply for a judicial review.

On that basis Mr Justice Treacy agreed to let the case proceed to a full hearing at a later stage.

David Scoffield QC, for Mrs McKay, also pressed for an interim order that any new patients are to be admitted.

“The minister has conceded those who are there at present will not be pushed out the door,” he said.

“Before we have a full argument what’s the difficulty in allowing new patients to be accommodated.”

Mr Scoffield argued that staff will be moved on if the current position remains in place.

He added: “This is a case which really represents the range of users and stakeholders in the hospital.

“It isn’t to be viewed solely on the narrow interests of one particular person.”

Tony McGleenan QC, responding on behalf of the trust, insisted, however, that anyone requiring immediate care will be looked after.

“They will be provided with treatment they need at another location, perhaps not far away from this hospital,” he told the court.

“The difficulty is there have been no new admissions for some time now. Staff have been scaled back.”

Although he declined to impose an immediate order, Mr Justice Treacy said he was listing the issue for further hearing next week.

He confirmed: “I’m sitting on Tuesday as a matter of urgency to deal with the matter.”