THERE has been a swell of public support for the Minor Injuries Unit at South Tyrone Hospital with over 1,000 people in the last two weeks alone attending the unit for treatment.
For the second week running the under-threat unit has treated over 500 people - adding further weight to the argument that the unit is in high demand.
Currently the MIU is open seven days a week from 9am-9pm however the Southern Trust is considering cutting its weekend opening hours, resulting in the loss of the 9am-10am and 6pm-9pm time slots every Saturday and Sunday...unless the unit can prove it treats at least four patients every hour.
Community campaigners have pledged to do all they can to save the MIU and have been busy drumming up support for it - with dramatic results!
Speaking to the Courier, South Tyrone Hospital Community Forum spokesperson, Jim Kerr, said he and his fellow campaigners were astounded by the pace at which public support for protecting the unit's opening hours has swelled.
He said: "We have been stunned at how just a few weeks' of publicity in the Courier has affected numbers at the unit.
"There has been an incredible rise of about 25 per cent above average in the past two weeks...and remember that this unit already has the largest attendances of any in Northern Ireland.
"To put things in perspective, South Tyrone MIU had as many attendances in just two days last weekend as many units in the UK have in a whole week in the normally busier 9am-5pm week-day hours!"
Further compounding the clear demand there is for the unit in its existing form is the remarkable news that since the beginning of May the MIU has had an average of four patients per hour at weekends and in the past two weeks this has grown to five per hour!
The STHCF has been campaigning to stop the cuts, arguing that the unit, as one of the busiest of its kind in the UK, is an essential service for local people.
With this in mind it is appealing to the trust to postpone any decision for 12 months to allow the unit to prove its remarkable performance rate is consistent.
A key element of the STHCF's campaign therefore is to maximise public usage of the MIU by ensuring that EVERYONE is aware of it current opening hours...seven days a week from 9am-9pm!
Continued Mr Kerr: "We have absolutely no doubt that lack of awareness of the opening hours of 9am-9pm, seven days a week is the only problem the unit faces.
"We hope that the trust is as encouraged as ourselves at the continuous rise in attendances and that they will become as focused in aggressively publicising the service.
"After all, everyone will benefit, not just the people of this area, but also all of the others who use the overcrowded A&E in Craigavon Area Hospital.
"After the recent appointment of four more A&E consultants in CAH, the clinical director for Emergency Medicine, Mr Seamus O'Reilly, stated on the trust's website: "Too often, we find our time and resources taken up by people whose ailments are neither serious nor urgent.
"GPs, minor injuries units and local pharmacists all provide non-emergency treatment in the community, and I would urge, where appropriate, to use those services instead."
"We agree (with this message)", continued Mr Kerr, "The Minister for Health would also agree. The MIU service in South Tyrone ties in precisely with the new model of care in the community in N Ireland being suggested by the Compton Report.
"The fact that hundreds of people in the past few weeks, who would otherwise have driven past the MIU to wait for hours in Craigavon's A&E, have now been treated successfully in less than 30 minutes, only emphasises the point."
In a bid to up the usage of the unit, the STHCF is calling on sports clubs to become involved in supporting the unit, especially in the evenings, during weekends, after sports events.
Many may presently be unaware of the range of injuries the unit can treat and may not be using its services as much as they could.
Added Mr Kerr: "If their members were made aware of the quick service and opening hours to 9pm at night, we think they would definitely use the service more. It is these hours that are most under threat. It will take only a tiny increase in attendances in these hours to make them safe from closure.
"With just about one more patient per hour in the weekend evenings, the target of four patients per hour will be reached. The continued success of the unit is in all our hands.
"If we pass the word on and tell as many people as possible about the opening hours of 9am-9pm seven days a week and the short waiting times, we will be sucessful at retaining the present hours."
Ulster Unionist Assembly member for Fermanagh & South Tyrone, Tom Elliott has also gave his support for the campaign to save the MIU's opening hours.
As part of a cross-party delegation of politicians, he joined with STHCF in persuading the Health Minister Edwin Poots MLA to agree that the opening hours at MIU should be retained from 9am-9pm, seven days per week.
However he is adamant that the general public play their part by increasing the number of patients who attend this facility.
Mr Elliott said: "I was greatly impressed by the level of support shown at all our meeting for the retention of these excellent facilities but what I want to see happening over the coming weeks and months is a further increase in the evenings and weekends.
"Recent figures show that the number of people waiting for more than 12 hours in Northern Ireland A&E departments has jumped by 750 per cent in the past five years - there were 10, 213 breaches of the 12 hour target, compared to 7,386 in 2010/2011 but in 2007 there were just 982.
"I pose the question to any parent in the district: Would you prefer your sick child or elderly relative to take the chance of being seen within four hours or perhaps wait over 12 hours at Craigavon Hospital, when you could be seen in MIU in South Tyrone Hospital?
"This unit has proven to be one of the most successful in the UK and staff and hours must be retained with your help."
Source: Tyrone Courier
Date: Wednesday 13th June 2012