Adjournment Debate: Dalriada Hospital

On Tuesday 8th Spetember 2015 MLAs debated the Dalriada Hospital.

From the Official Report:

Mr McKay: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I rise in the knowledge that this is the first debate on the Dalriada Hospital since November of last year, and a lot has happened since then. It is important first to place on record our thanks and appreciation to the "Save the Dal" campaign, which in the end, or in the most recent financial year anyway, saved the Dal. I thank the campaign's committee, its volunteers, the social media activists, the tractor drivers who campaigned in rallies around the town and the public, who turned out in their hundreds at meetings in Bushmills, Ballycastle, Cushendall and elsewhere.

I will never forget the first meeting that we had in the Sheskburn in Ballycastle. There was no standing room, and we had to set up other rooms for members of the public. For Tony Stevens, who had only recently come into post at the trust, it was very much a baptism of fire. As I said, a lot has happened since then. Thankfully, the trust changed its position, and Philomena McKay was successful in her legal challenge, which saw the High Court overturn the non-admissions policy. At the time, the Assembly backed the reinstatement and continuation of services at Dalriada. I hope that that remains the case, because the motion was brought forward by my constituency colleague Mr Swann, and the House unanimously supported it. The House supports the Dalriada and the retention of services there, and we need to ensure that that remains the case.

In February of this year, the old Moyle Council commissioned a report on the future of Dalriada Hospital. The Dal currently has 20 intermediate beds, 12 MS respite beds and a range of clinics and outpatient services. The report takes a holistic approach to the Dal, and it was very frustrating last year when the trust focused on short-term savings without looking at the concept of value for money and at how rural-based services can save the taxpayer money by preventing things such as bed-blocking in acute hospitals; namely, Antrim Area Hospital, the Causeway and Altnagelvin. It is very frustrating, because the Dal works. It has a high demand for beds, and occupancy figures remain in excess of 90%.

A report by Colin Stutt Consulting and Seamus Carey demonstrates to the trust that there is opportunity: opportunity to innovate; opportunity to save money; and opportunity to improve the health of the community. I know that the Minister wants all of these things. I know, from his time as Finance Minister, that he was big on innovation, and I believe that this is a big opportunity for innovation and public-sector reform. Dr George O'Neill made comments along similar lines last week. He said that there needs to be leadership and innovation in the health service. The Minister has asked for that to be brought forward, and this is an example.

There is emerging evidence of new approaches to addressing the needs of elderly populations. One example was a pilot scheme in Newquay in Cornwall, which is being rolled out across seven locations in England, including Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, with up to 1,000 patients covered in each case. Early results show significant improvements in well-being and substantial savings through reduced hospital admissions. Early figures include a reduction in all acute hospital costs of 41%; a reduction in all non-elective hospital costs of 61%; a reduction in inpatient hospital activity of 43%; a reduction in emergency department activity of 36%; and a reduction in total social care costs of 8%.

As the new Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council has already stated, the population currently served by Dalriada is perfectly suitable for a pilot of this new approach. It could be a hub for outreach, support and care services for the frail, elderly and the vulnerable in Ballycastle and its surrounding area, villages and hamlets. This could be a pilot for the rest of the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council area and much farther afield across the North.

It is nearly a year on from the proposal to close, in effect, Dalriada Hospital, and I do not want the same thing to happen this year. I do not want any sudden announcements or anything that will send the community into a spin, as it did last year. That community has character, that community has resolve, and that community demonstrated how to stand up and give your community a voice. It gave an example of volunteerism the likes of which we have never seen in north Antrim. I commend those people again for that.

Why would we like an assurance? I believe that it is because the report shows that, despite the outright opposition to the trust's proposal last year, the community listened and responded to the trust, taking into account the financial difficulties and issues that it faces. In June, Minister, you stated:

"there have been a lot of opinions expressed by people about diagnosing the problems, but not a lot of suggestions as to what the exact treatment should be."

This model is called the Dalriada pathfinder. It is innovation in healthcare. It will lead to better outcomes in health, and it will lead to greater savings at a time when money is scarcer. This deserves your support.

You can read the full transcript on our website.

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