Radical new A&E plans could lead to downgrading of hospital

THE Accident and Emergency department at the South West Acute Hospital could be in danger of being downgraded, offering less services and forcing patients to travel long distances for specialist treatments should new NHS proposals be introduced.

Under radical plans to create a two-tier emergency health care system proposed by the NHS medical director in England  casualty units, such as the one at SWAH would be reclassified as either ‘emergency centres’, which would assess patients and start treatment, and ‘major emergency centres’, which would provide specialist care such as for strokes or heart attacks.

While the radical overhaul of A&E services is still only being discussed in a GreatBritain context, with continuing economic pressues on the NHS it is thought likely that it would be rolled out across all parts of the UK, including Northern Ireland.

Under the proposals between 70 and 100 hospital A &E departments would be downgraded to offer reduced services as ‘emergency centres’ and between 40 and 70 hospitals now offering A&E would be classified as the specialist centres.


From figures from the Department of Health for the year ending March 31, 2013  the South West Acute Hospital had less inpatients than six other hospitals in the North with 14,964 inpatients and less occupancy than five of those facilities with a rate of 78%.

If the new proposals were to be implemented Altnagelvin Area Hospital would appear to be the more likely choice as a ‘major emergency centre’ in the Western Trust area due to inpatient numbers of 33,911 for 2012/2013 –  more than double that of those in Enniskillen.

The Western Trust did not wish to comment on the proposals.

Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, the head of NHS England, insisted the changes were not about closing local A&E departments but about creating a safe service that could cope with increasing demand.

“We are here really because A&E is creaking at the seams. It’s not broken but it is struggling.

“In many senses, our A&Es have become victims of their own success because they function as a safety net for people who are worried, frightened, anxious or in pain and therefore have problems that concern them.

“When A&Es become very busy it means other parts of the system are creaking as well, they are under stress.”


Local Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan believes these radical proposals are no threat to the emergency services department in Enniskillen, nor was there any threat of services offered being downgraded.

“There is a need to be expanded if anything,” explained Mr Flanagan, who told the Herald he was in the process of making efforts to secure a date in Stormont to discuss the expansion of services at the South West Acute Hospital.

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