Mr Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA and Chairman of the Stormont Employment and Learning Committee has accused the Northern Health Trust of “standing on Dalriada’s Hospital neck whilst it claimed to be holding its hand”.
Assemblyman Swann, who is UUP Chief Whip, said the trust had “to stop dragging its feet over the future of the Ballycastle hospital and urge the DUP health minister to reverse the decision to close the Dalriada”.
Mr Swann issued his challenge after a hard-hitting Stormont debate on the issue after which MLAs supported the motion: “That this Assembly notes the decision to close the regional multiple sclerosis respite centre at Dalriada Hospital in Ballycastle until March 2015 and transfer the service to the independent sector; further notes the importance of appropriate respite provision for patients and their families; believes the decision to be entirely wrong and one which makes no financial sense; fears the decision will result in the permanent closure of the centre; and calls on the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to reverse the decision and immediately reinstate the service at Dalriada Hospital.”
Assemblyman Swann added: “It was Nye Bevan - the father of the NHS - who said no society could legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person was denied medical aid because of a lack of means.
“I want to follow on from that with a quotation from one of the users of the respite centre at our first meeting at Bushmills, Robert Weiner, when he heard of the closure of the respite centre, said: ‘I thought of death, I thought of self-harm and I thought my life was ended’.
“That was one of the most moving contributions to this whole campaign I have heard since it started.
“The DUP Health Minister has asked us to give alternatives, but he must explain what the alternatives to the closure of Dalriada were. Is the closure of Dalriada acceptable compared with the alternatives?
“The words ‘temporary closure’ have been used - a temporary closure until the end of March. However, the Minister has warned that ‘temporary’ may mean ‘permanent’ in some cases. That is where we are at.
“There was no engagement with us, as public representatives, prior to the closure of Dalriada, so we did not have an alternative.
“The trust made recommendations to the Health and Social Care Board, which then made those recommendations to the Department. The Department then made those recommendations to the Minister, and some were accepted and some were not.
“You need to question the chief executive of the Northern Trust, then, because that is what he told me and a number of my party colleagues yesterday in front of witnesses.
“He said that there were alternatives put, of which some were accepted and some were not. If the Minister is taking the word solely of the trust in this argument, that is a fine example of the trust telling you one story and telling other people something else.
“I do not believe that this has been an honest fight. The trust has been standing on Dalriada’s neck whilst it claimed to be holding its hand, and it has a lot of serious questions to answer,” said Assemblyman Swann.