THE closure of the accident and emergency unit at Belfast City Hospital could see stress mount on staff in other hospitals as the winter flu bug takes hold, a local MLA has warned.

Former health minister Michael McGimpsey told the South Belfast News that the expected increase in flu cases could add yet more pressure on staff in hospitals including the Royal Victoria in West Belfast, who already have to cope with a huge influx of new visitors.

Statistics released this week show a huge rise in people attending the RVH A&E since the City Hospital unit closed its doors “temporarily” on November 1, due to a lack of doctors.

Described as “provisional information”, the Department of Health figures will be finalised in the new year, but so far show a jump of almost 1,200 attendees at the RVH A&E in November, compared to the previous month, when the South Belfast unit - less than two miles away - was still open.

The figures show just how busy the City A&E was before closure, with 3,324 visitors in October.

Critics of the closure continue to slam Health Minister Edwin Poots for the decision to close. His DUP colleague and South Belfast MLA Jimmy Spratt refused to comment to this paper over the issue. Instead, he pointed to figures showing that 72.7 per cent of the new total monthly arrivals at the RVH were being seen to within four hours or less, and two less people in November than October had been forced to wait over 12 hours in the unit.

However his Assembly rival Michael McGimpsey reiterated his belief that the South Belfast A&E should not have been closed before the opening of the new critical care unit under construction at the RVH.

He further predicted staff at nearby hospitals were about to get a lot busier when the flu strikes.

“My position was always that the City A&E should have remain open,” he said.

“We can see that staff at the Royal are certainly busier, but we have to remember this is early days for the flu problem, which will increase as winter develops.

“It will give us real cause for concern if staff are swamped even more than they are. I have huge admiration for all our hospital staff, and those who have had to go through this difficult transition period since the closure, and I still believe it was not fair to close the South Belfast unit in the way they did.”