Mr Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA and Chairman of the Stormont Employment and Learning Committee has stressed that “re-opening Ballycastle’s Dalriada Hospital should be the only solution which DUP Health Minister Jim Wells should implement following his so-called consultation”.
Assemblyman Swann, who is UUP Chief Whip, issued his challenge to Minister Wells following a Stormont debate on the closure, branding the minister’s eight-week consultation period as “ducking the only real option”.
Mr Swann added: “Talk of the eight-week period of consultation is not a so-called ‘stay of execution’ – it is quite simply ducking the issue entirely.
“There is only one solution and that is that Minister Wells should respect the unanimous demand of the Assembly and protect Northern Ireland’s only Multiple Sclerosis respite unit.
“I call on the Health Minister to directly intervene and reinstate services at the Regional Multiple Sclerosis Respite Centre at the Dalriada Hospital,” the North Antrim UUP MLA said after he led a debate in the Assembly, which received unanimous support.
Mr Swann added: “The Health Minister was left in no doubt – the decision to close the MS respite unit has no political support, as well as having no support in the local community or from MS sufferers.
“While his party attempted to lay the blame entirely with the Northern Health Trust, the reality is the Minister personally signed off on the closure and, therefore, only he can reinstate it.
“Unfortunately the only thing offered by the Minister was the announcement of a formal consultation over the unit’s closure. I suspect at this moment in time, the outlook after March 2015 has already been determined and this will simply be consultation for consultation’s sake.
“Uncertainty now and through the consultation period will only prolong the anxiety of the staff and the people who use this service.
“Given the Assembly has now held a formal debate and unanimously called on the Minister to ‘reverse the decision and immediately reinstate the service at Dalriada Hospital’; the original decision has no mandate or legitimacy to proceed.
“The Minister needs to step forward and take control of the situation and listen to the will of the public, political parties and patients.
“The closure of the unit is an issue which has caused public anger, emotion, concern and protest. Those hit hardest by the closure will be the people who use the service.
“That is not only the 69 people with MS as previously indicated by the Minister, but also the many hundreds of family members and carers who also benefit from the relief that it provides.
“The many benefits of respite care, be they medical, financial or otherwise, ripple outwards from the patient to their family circle and friends.
“This point must never ever be forgotten or underestimated, but yet it appears it has been in the decision to close Northern Ireland’s only dedicated MS respite centre,” warned Assemblyman Swann.