Following complaints about difficulties some people have had accessing the Walk In Covid-19 testing facility at the Albert Basin in Newry, councillors have agreed to ask officials to contact the Public Health Agency to discuss the matter.

Newry City Councillor, Michael Savage brought up the matter at last night's monthly meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council. Cllr Savage spoke of grave concerns over how the facility was working out over the past few weeks. "I have had a number of conversations with deeply concerned family's and relatives of people who have had to use the facility over the Christmas period and also the challenges that the location is posing for some of them. We have a lot of elderly people, some of them very ill, making their way, and some not so mobile either, trying to make their way, sometimes for a distance of up to a quarter of a mile, to walk in cold, frosty, wet evenings into what is a very cold environment of an outdoor marquee to do this test."

The Albert Basin Walk in Covid-19 test facility. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
The Albert Basin Walk in Covid-19 test facility. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Cllr Savage said he knew of an elderly gentleman who had to walk from the middle bank car park who took a turn and slumped over the railings at the pedestrian crossing on the way there. "I've had harrowing stories from people and relatives in tears to me today who have outlined it. Their relatives have ended up on ventilators, the trauma of that is sufficient as we all know to deal with in itself without this added pressure put on." Said Cllr Savage.

The Newry Councillor made a formal proposal that officials go back to the PHA and outline the concerns of the local public in relation to accesability issues at the Albert Basin.  try to revert back as quickly as possible to a drive in scenario, or at least come up with some sort of a solution that allows frail elderly people that are looking to be tested to access the site and preserve some sort of dignity.

Cllr Michael Savage.

Speaking about the need for a local drive in facility Cllr Savage said "The alternative if you want to drive is an hour and a half/ hour and forty five minutes round trip to Craigavon and I don't believe the people of Newry, South Down and South Armagh area should have to put up with that. We need a drive in facility in Newry."

The Newry representative added "I believe very firmly that we need to have another look at this. It's not as if we don't have the space at the site. This site functioned as a drive in facllity previously for a period of 4 or 5 months and I believe we need to have a conversation immediately with the public health authority to get that reverted back to a drive in facility and I would ask the officers to engage with the public health authority as a matter of urgency."

Director of Corporate Services, Darina Carville said she was happy to feed the points back to the PHA although she explained "It's their decision. They have determined that a drive in facility was actually prohibiting those members of the public who didn't have access to a vehicle from getting tested. They deemed that it was a walk in facility that was needed for Newry but we will take back those points and we will speak to them whether there can be a dual facility on the site but it's obviously within their gift to determine what's on there."

Cllr Harold McKee.

Mournes Councillor, Cllr Harold McKee mentioned that someone he knew was directed to Silverbridge yesterday and that it would be as easy to go to Craigavon as to Silverbridge but he agreed with Cllr Savage that it needs to be in Newry.

Cllr Barra Ó Muirí.

Slieve Gullion Councillor, Cllr Barra Ó Muirí pointed out that the drive in PHA facility at Silverbridge GAA had re-opened on Monday "The people round about Silverbridge were full of praise today for how efficient and effective the test facility was carried out at Silverbridge Harps."

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