Health Minister to face grilling on hospital comments

The Health Minister Michelle O'Neill

The Health Minister Michelle O’Neill

THE Health Minister is due to be grilled on her controversial letter about the future of services at the South West Acute Hospital when she meets staff there tomorrow (Thursday). 

Michelle O’Neill has been under fire over comments she made in a letter sent to local councillors where she appeared to refer to the Enniskillen hospital and the surrounding area as “remote”, “unpopular” and offering “weak training experience”.


In the Sinn Fein minister’s correspondence responding to councillor’s concerns regarding the high level of staff shortages at SWAH, Ms O’Neill said: “I would have serious concerns that forcing junior doctors to locations that are unpopular due to geographical remoteness, weak training experience or lack a supportive environment will quite likely deter yet more trainees to the overall detriment of the HSC”. 

This prompted angry responses from some councillors when it was discussed at their recent monthly meeting in Omagh. The council has been engaging in an ongoing correspondence with Minster O’Neill and her Department over long-term problems in attracting full-time doctors and consultants.

Ms O’Neill is visiting Enniskillen hospital tomorrow morning to officially open a new Macmillan Cancer Information Point, which will deliver a wide range of information and support for people affected by cancer, and those who have queries about cancer. While there she is also due to meet with Western Trust staff amid ongoing concerns around the retention of services and recruitment of staff. 

Meanwhile SDLP MLA Richie McPhillips says he stands by his comments expressing concern about the overall future of SWAH after being blasted by Ms O’Neill for trying “to grab a cheap headline in his local papers”. 

In this newspaper two weeks ago, Mr McPhillips expressed concern in relation to acute services, stroke services and the recruitment of staff following the publication of the Bengoa report. But Ms O’Neill hit back at his comments in the Stormont Assembly last week, describing his “cheap headline” approach as “really unhelpful”. 

“It is unhelpful, to say the least, for the Member to try to grab a cheap headline in his local papers for one week in a way that lets staff feel that their jobs will be in jeopardy and that makes patients feel that their services will be in jeopardy, when, very clearly, transformation points to the need to specialise and to the fact that there are opportunities for the South West Acute Hospital, which is not, indeed, what the Member suggested will be the case. I suggest having a wee bit of positivity and support for the staff who work really hard,” she said. 

Responding to the Minister’s remarks, Mr McPhillips said: “I make no apology to anyone for defending the health care professionals who are trying to provide a care service to the people in the South West.” 


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