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March 2010 – Save The Mater Hospital

Just over one year ago, in February 2009, in this very paper I used my monthly political platform to raise the fact that Belfast Trust were trying to remove psychiatric services from the Mater Hospital.

I was concerned that the Trust had plans not only to relocate psychiatric services from the Mater, to South Belfast, but also to change the Mater to a midwifery led maternity service, with no consultant obstetricians, just midwifes. The downgrading of these services was, in my mind, part of a long term strategy by the Trust to run down the Mater to the point where they could try to justify a future decision to close down the Mater.

The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust has just closed it’s consultation on proposals for establishment of an acute mental health facility based in the Belfast City Hospital site. 

The next step for the people of North Belfast is to express their concern at the implications of what these proposals might lead to.  It is important that we support the proposals for the building of the acute unit at the City Hospital but this can not come at the expense of an excellent an irreplaceable service.

I would encourage you to take this very seriously and remember the effective campaign which the SDLP lead to keep the Matter hospital open.  Without lobbying the Minister and the Trust directly we would have lost this vitally important service and North Belfast cannot afford to lose any services.

The psychiatric unit in the Mater Hospital has served the people of North Belfast for many. North Belfast is an area of particular need and we must make sure that the Trust and the Minister for Health both recognise this as vitally important. The Mater is the ideal site for such a facility. The facility could easily be built on the Girdwood/ Crumlin Road Prison Site, at the rear of the Crumlin Road Prison itself, on the clear ground there. At present this land is in the Department of Social Development ownership and can easily be transferred for this use. It could be built alongside the proposed Ambulatory Care facility which has been continually delayed since the setting up of the Belfast Trust. Additionally, while under construction it would not need to close its present facilities for mental health.

The plans by the Trust are incredibly short-sighted as they deal with neither the existing, nor the future, conditions on the ground in North Belfast. They seem to ignore the higher than average levels of deprivation which exist in North Belfast and another closure, to one of the largest employers in this part of the city, will only exacerbate this situation and lead to increased hardship.

The Mater has the longest and proudest tradition of mental health care of any acute hospital in Belfast. We need to enhance the Mater Hospital and help secure its long term future as an acute hospital. It is also an employer, a major source of good employment for local people. This factor should not be ignored in considering the future of Mater. The Mater has been, and continues, to be a leader in mental health care. It is the largest inpatient unit in the Belfast area. The Mater has been at the forefront of radical developments in mental health for quite some time. Its work has been at he cutting edge in contemporary radical community based care. On top of all of this it is also a first class teaching facility with an excellent research facility.

I would ask anyone who shares my concerns to make their feelings known to Belfast Trust. If we do not speak out, and make it clear to the Trust that we do not support their plans, we will loose this vital service, and in the years to come it will be too late to reverse this decision. The Belfast Trust can be contacted at:

Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Trust Headquarters

Nore Villa

Knockbracken Healthcare Park

Saintfield Road

Belfast BT8 8BH

Or email at;



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