The Northern Health and Social Care Trust has refuted claims that it intends to close Larne’s Moyle Hospital “by stealth”.
Concerns arose earlier this year following the announcement that an outpatient service was to be relocated from the Larne hospital to another facility.
At the time, the Trust said the move was due to a vacancy becoming available elsewhere. A spokeswoman also downplayed the decision as operational changes, and said it should “in no way be seen as an attempt to reduce services on the Moyle site”.
Despite this assurance, local councillors expressed fears that the move could signal the beginning of the end for the Moyle.
And, at the November meeting of Larne Borough Council, Cllr Maureen Morrow said she understood the dermatology outpatients clinic has been relocated from Larne to Whiteabbey.
A spokeswoman for the Trust confirmed that one of two dermatology clinics has been removed from Larne, but was not able to say whether this relocation would be permanent.
She added: “There are times, for operational reasons, when we are required to move clinics from one site to another. This can be temporary or permanent depending on the circumstances that initiate the change.
“The Trust is committed to providing as broad a range of outpatient clinics in that locality, as long as it is possible to do so”.
The council has now agreed to write to the Trust to express its concerns and seek clarification on future plans for services at Moyle Hospital.
The local authority has also invited NHSCT representatives to address council in December.
Larne Mayor Martin Wilson added: “My concern is that the Trust is employing a drip feed strategy; removing services gradually until there is nothing left, effectivley closing the hospital by stealth.
“I am hopeful that members of the Trust will come before council so we can get some straight answers about its intentions for Moyle Hospital.”
Health Minister Jim Wells said £170m of savings were required for his Department inthe year 2014/15.
As a result of these budget pressures, the trusts have put in place contingency plans which will see a number of hard-hitting cuts being implemented across Northern Ireland.
A Trust spokesperson said Moyle Hospital is “not directly affected” by the contingency plans.
However, one service which has been impacted is the minor injuries unit at Whiteabbey Hospital, which is set to close from December 1.
The Trust is unable to confirm if or when the facility will reopen.
East Antrim MLAs Stewart Dickson and Roy Beggs have condemned the decision, claiming it will lead to longer A&E waiting times.