Mr Edwin Poots MLA                                                                                 May 2013
Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety
Room C5.10
Castle Buildings
Stormont Estate


Dear Minister,

At our LCG meeting with you several weeks ago, you invited us to write to you on the matter of resolving your concerns over public transport to and from the Downe Hospital.

You will recall that at your recent official opening of the new GP Units at the Downe Hospital in Downpatrick, you felt that improvements were needed to Bus transport to the site..  At the opening you referred to the Downe Hospital as a best practice example for the hub and spoke approach to health provision set out in John Compton’s recent review Transforming Your Care. In particular it represents an example of the links between secondary and primary care.

We are following up on your concerns expressed at the opening that a centrally important hub should be served by a good bus service. You will be aware of the importance of a suitable public transport provision to allow patients and others to easily reach health facilities and the link between the provision of public transport and take-up of hospital services. You noted the negative impact of an inadequate bus service up to the Downe Hospital site and that this was working against the GP’s clinics

The Department of Health in England encourages Trusts to take action to improve patient access to health services. In its report, Tackling Health Inequalities: A Programme for Action (2003), it recognises that:

‘The ability to get to work and key services is critical in addressing health inequalities and other forms of disadvantage … Local transport plans submitted in 2005 will include a more systematic assessment of whether people can reach the services they need. Health service providers will have a key role in supporting and contributing to the accessibility planning process.’

We note your own and the Roads Minister, Danny Kennedy’s,  comments following the publication of the report, ‘Transport Issues in Accessing Health and Social Care’.  The report commissioned by Consumer Council and Patient and Client Council highlights  that  missed appointments due to transport issues could be costing the health service in Northern Ireland up to £2.2 million per year.

Unfortunately the Downe hospital site does not have an adequate public transport service to meet the needs of staff, patients and visitors. Council has been aware of the shortfall in provision for some time and has approached Translink and the South Eastern Trust on the matter.

We attach a proposal from Translink to introduce a regular all day service to the Downe Hospital site following two years of discussion with site management to include,

  • Trust facilitating access for Translink buses through the site
  • Proportionate Service charge on occupiers of the overall site, Down District Council, NIHE, South Eastern Health and Social Services Trust, Fire Service and PSNI. This additional service charge may only be required for two years until the service establishes itself.

This proposal could be financed in a number of ways including a small charge via the management fee for the site as is done for the Gasworks in Belfast or, if the South eastern Trust intends  to introduce car park charging, via a ‘hypothecated charge.’

We note the considerable level of cooperation between the Trust and Council to maximise the use of the redundant health property at the Downshire Campus, thereby relieving the Trust of the added burden of the legacy estate. A regular bus service to the public sector campus will enhance its ability to attract additional public sector tenants.  It will also address your concern about sick and elderly people being prevented from accessing GP and hospital services within their locality.

We would ask you therefore to encourage the Trust to support the proposal from Translink and enter into discussions with relevant parties to improve public transport to the Downe Hospital for the benefit of patients, staff and visitors.

Yours sincerely,

Councillors Cadogan Enright and Dermot Curran