Northern Ireland

Lagan Valley and Downe Hospital A&E opening hours review

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Media captionThe Lagan Valley Hospital is based in Lisburn city

Staff shortages have led to a review of A&E unit opening hours at two hospitals in County Down, the BBC understands.

The Lagan Valley Hospital and Downe Hospital's A&E times are being reviewed by the South Eastern Health Trust, which runs both hospitals.

A spokesperson for the trust said a shortage of doctors is making the hospitals' A&E units unsustainable.

At present, both units operate seven days a week, but it is understood the trust is considering weekend closures.

'Critical shortage'

In recent years there has been a question mark over the future of each unit as the South Eastern Health Trust has been unable to hire enough locum doctors.

Currently, both A&E units are open every day but they close each evening at about 22:00 GMT.

The BBC understands that health trust executives attempted to meet the health minister on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the possibility of closing the units at the weekend.

Image caption The recently built Downe Hospital was officially opened in June 2010

That would mean more people arriving at an already busy A&E unit at the Ulster Hospital, on the outskirts of east Belfast.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the trust said it was "experiencing a critical shortage of medical staff" in both the Downe and Lagan Valley emergency departments.

"This has been a critical position for a number of months and there is little prospect of a resolution. In fact, the situation has deteriorated over recent weeks," the statement added.

"The trust will be reviewing a range of options for continued provision of emergency care services at both sites with the objective of maintaining both emergency departments, albeit with reduced opening hours."

The statement added that a decision on weekend closure is likely to be taken this week.

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