Northern Ireland

Downe Hospital rally: 12,000 attend protest over reduction in services

Downpatrick rally
Image caption People walked two miles through Downpatrick to show their support on Saturday

Around 12,000 people have attended a rally in Downpatrick protesting against the reduction of services at the Downe Hospital.

Traffic in the town came to a standstill while farmers showed their support alongside school children, sports clubs, businesses and health workers.

They walked two miles through the town.

From January 2014, the accident and emergency unit at the Downe Hospital has been closed at weekends.

A shortage of qualified emergency doctors was blamed.

Other wards have also seen their bed numbers cut.

Organisers have said the hospital, officially opened in June 2010, was being hit with "never ending cuts".

SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie has urged the executive to pay attention to "the will of the people" regarding the future of the hospital.

"This march was extremely successful and sends a clear message to the Health Minister that he must restore, enhance and develop services at the Downe," she said.

"The people who showed their support here today will not accept anything less."

The rally organisers want to see the return of a full-time accident and emergency cover, as well as the recovery of coronary care and other wards.

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