Concerns about rural healthcare have led Rathfriland farmer and Ulster Farmers’ Union Deputy President Barclay Bell, along with a delegation of representatives from the UFU, to meet with the Health Minister Jim Wells.
In light of the budgetary pressures faced by the Department, many UFU members have become increasingly anxious about what the future holds for their local health service provision and the future of Transforming Your Care.
Also in attendance were Rural Affairs Policy Committee Chair Freda Magill, vice-Chair Sandra Hunter and Rural Affairs Policy Officer David McConaghy.
Speaking after the meeting, Barclay said: “The very fact that we felt it was necessary to have this meeting with the Health Minister highlights just how alarmed our members have become about where things are going in terms of rural health cover.
In particular, comments from healthcare professional bodies suggesting that Transforming Your Care has effectively been abandoned have become a concern for us. The recent plans to ‘temporarily’ close the Convalescence Unit and the Multiple Sclerosis Respite Unit at Dalriada Hospital and reduce the number of beds at Downe Hospital to name just two examples have seen rural communities come together to voice their discontent.
The concern is that if these services go temporarily, they’ll soon go permanently, and then what will be left?”
Rural Affairs Chair Freda Magill added: “It’s important that we are realistic about this and that the senior policy-makers understand what it is that we want.
“No-one in rural areas can seriously expect an ultra-modern, state-of-the-art hospital in every town, all the research shows that complex treatments are best carried out, in centres of excellence, or ‘hubs’.
“However, rural dwellers do not think it is fair that they should have to travel to urban areas for relatively straight-forward, simple procedures.
“The specific needs of rural communities need to be fully considered in planning healthcare provision, and for that reason we hope that Minister Wells will ensure that any future decisions affecting rural communities will be required to be rural proofed.”
Barclay concluded: “We were very encouraged that Minister Wells was able to give us a commitment that rural healthcare provision remains a priority for him. The UFU will continue to monitor the situation regarding rural healthcare to ensure the voice of the rural community is heard.”