Down Comminty Health campaigner Dick Shannon and Cllr Cadogan Enright at Downpatrick Bus Station


At meeting last week organised by Cllr Cadogan Enright between the Downe Community Health Committee and  Downpatrick Ulsterbus manager Gary Mawhinney  discussed public transport to the new Downe Hospital, and access to the 3 main South Eastern Area Hospitals of The Ulstrer in Dundonald, The Downe and Lagan Valley in Lisburn.

Access to Lagan Valley and Ulster Hospital from the Trust area:-

It was noted that Belfast Health Board hospitals (Royal/Mater) are well served for people from the South East Trust’s area of the province with frequent services from Europa Bus Centre or the City Centre with onward rapid connections.

Direct access to Lagan Valley and The Ulster is limited. Unless patients live in the vicinity of these two hospitals, or along the bus-routes that serve them. Public transport from other areas of the Trust is poor and requires;

a)    In the case of the Lagan Hospital, taking a bus to the Europa and then an onward connection to Lagan via bus services 38 or 532

b)    In the case of the Ulster, taking a bus to Bedford Street and getting the 4a Metro bus from the City Hall to the Ulster

Downe Hospital:-

The situation is potentially quite different for patients attending the Downe, as plans had existed for a ’15-minute shuttle service’ from Downpatrick Bus Station during the planning and implementation phases of the new Downe Hospital. Downpatrick Bus Station is well connected to many towns in the Trust area, and via the Europa to the rest of N.I.

Experience shows that a frequent service running at regular intervals encourages public transport usage. Given the current and impending influx of additional services to the hospital and the neighbouring Downshire site a review of the level of public transport on this route is urgently required. It was decided to work with the South Eastern Trust and Downe Council to see if some of the challenges could be overcome.

But public transport to the Downe is currently limited to an hourly minibus service from Downpatrick Bus Station into the Downe Hospital site via the local housing estates. The service is uneconomic and only survives due to cross-subsidising from our more viable mainline routes.

Detailed discussion took place around current issues arising at the Downe as follows:-

  1. Relocation of Town Clinic(s):-

The current movement of surgery / clinic facilities out of Downpatrick Town Centre to the Hospital site will undoubtedly influence travel patterns in Downpatrick with additional customers requiring transport access to Downe Hospital. Many patients who previously used surgeries in Downpatrick have limited access to private transport.

  1. Previous Transport Subsidy option:-

Prior to completion of the new Downe Hospital the South Eastern Health Board (Down Lisburn Trust) discussed the possibility of a transport route subsidy for Ulsterbus to provide a shuttle service between Downpatrick Bus Station and the new hospital. The funding was withdrawn before a final decision was taken leaving only the pre-existing minibus route to service the site. This may be an appropriate time to reconsider this option in order to improve access and increase the bus service frequency.

  1. Regional or Trust-wide services:-

If the Trust intends to have regional or Trust-wise services made available at the Downe like the new sexual health clinic, this would be an additional reason to have the original proposed link to the new hospital put in place. . An improved bus link between the town centre and the Hospital would also make the relocation to Downe of Regional Services more attractive.

  1. Parking Charges at Downe Hospital:-

It is likely that parking charges will soon be introduced at the new Downe Hospital. This will undoubtedly have an impact on public transport requirements but may also be an opportunity to direct this new revenue into improving transport links. Such a move would need to consider the potential for an increase in illegal parking along the existing access road for buses and how this might be tackled. Downe Community Health Committee were not keen on parking charges as they tend to hit the poorest and sickest in society.

  1. Access to Downe Hospital:-

The access / egress to the bus stop in the vicinity of the hospital front door has an obstacle projected into the roadway that limits Ulsterbuses ability to utilise vehicles greater in size than 25-seater minibuses. In particular there are narrow sections of roadway which may require re-shaping or widening to allow better transport links into the facility.

For example, the passing bus service to/from Ardglass can only utilise the bus stop on the main road which involves a considerable uphill walk to the hospital doors. Now that Surgeries and clinics previously held in the Town of Downpatrick are being held in the Hospital, it is becoming more desirable to deal with this issue.

  1. Access from the adjacent Downshire site:-

Given the impending arrival of new public services and large numbers of public servants at this site at the new ‘Public Sector Campus’  (including Down District Council, PSNI, NIFRS and Planning Offices) it would be prudent to have a “through route” between the two sites allowing easier transport access and greater potential for improvements to existing services.

  1. Access to the Downshire Site:-

An additional roadway into the above site from the vicinity of the Ballyhornan Road / Ardmeen Green would facilitate much easier access for the existing local Town Service route potentially providing a half-hourly service from Downpatrick Town Centre, in addition to the service mentioned below.

In Summary:-

There could potentially be an excellent level of public transport available to Trust Patients, local residents and workers using the Downe Hospital site and the adjacent Downshire site.

Gary Mawhinney undertook to write to the South Eastern Trust seeking a meeting with them and with Downe Council to discuss the above, and Cllr Cadogan Enright undertook to follow up with Downe  Council with whom he had already raised the issue on the Health Committee to be dealt with for the opening of the new council buildings in September on the Downeshire site.