Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, ridiculously tried to claim that the units in the Mid-Ulster and Whiteabbey were closed for “health and safety reasons”, and that Antrim Area Hospital would take up the slack. This is despite the fact that Antrim, as the Campaign has demonstrated, was already grossly overstretched. Now, dozens are regularly left on trolleys for hours at a time. The Trust has tried to gag staff to keep conditions in the unit quiet.
In reality, the closures are a direct result of the £813 million in health cuts the Assembly Executive has voted through in the last year. Of course, this didn’t stop politicians from the main parties, including MP for the area, Martin McGuinness, lining up with crocodile tears in their eyes at the initial protests organised by the campaign. However, when campaign and trade union activists began to ask difficult questions after the closure of the unit, they largely disappeared.
The Campaign should act as an example to other communities to fight back against the onslaught of public sector cuts on the horizon. The first protests brought hundreds of local people out onto the streets to demonstrate their opposition to the attack on their local service. The Campaign has collected thousands of petitions against the closure, and put the Trust management and politicians under huge pressure over the way they slashed the unit. However, the numbers involved have dwindled after the closure and the campaign is now based on a group of very dedicated activists. A vast reservoir of support still exists though for the campaign in the communities and amongst hospital staff. Accident and emergency services at the Mid-Ulster hospital can be returned if this support is harnessed into a democratic mass campaign targeting the politicians who have the power to reverse the closure.
The trade unions at the Mid-Ulster must also join the campaign. The decision to effectively close Mid-Ulster Hospital must be linked to the cuts unanimously voted by all the parties in power in the Assembly. By patiently campaigning in local communities across Mid-Ulster with leaflets and posters explaining the Assembly Executive’s role in the closure of the hospital, pressure can be built. Active local “Save the Mid” Campaigns in every town across Mid-Ulster would put the politicians under pressure, especially if the idea of standing a candidate/candidates in next year’s Assembly and local elections was raised by the campaign.