Over 2,200 people had by last night signed a petition against any removal of child respite services from Derry.
The petition, with an accompanying video featuring families who use The Cottages facility in the Waterside, has attracted support from across Ireland and beyond since it was set up a few days ago.
The families have stated on the petition that the proposals “shame our city and they shame the Western Trust.”
In a separate development, the chair of the Assembly’s Health committee, Sinn Féin Foyle MLA Maeve McLaughlin, yesterday called on Health Minister Jim Wells to “halt any plans that may be under consideration to reduce or relocate the services”.
She said: “There is clearly a need for such a facility in Derry and many of the families have told me they are fearful their child may end up having to take a 70-mile round trip to avail of any new facility.”
A Health Department spokeswoman responded: “The review of services has highlighted the need to remodel respite facilities to reflect the new and emerging needs, including the needs of children with complex physical healthcare needs who require increased staffing levels.
“The Minister will be updated shortly on the proposed next steps.”
A spokeswoman for the Western Trust meanwhile reiterated that they were “engaging with families and staff in their review of residential respite services in line with new and emerging needs and will be in a position to announce something soon.”
It has now emerged that there are 34 children using The Cottages at present. The running costs last year were £531,935. A further 51 children are availing of residential respite services in Avalon House, Omagh, at a cost of £647,606.
The questions were submitted by South Belfast SDLP MLA Fearghal McKinney.