THE Minister for Health has said her recent controversial letter about the future of services in rural locations was “never intended to be any kind of slight” on the South West Acute Hospital.
Michelle O’Neill was speaking to the Fermanagh Herald on a visit to SWAH last Thursday after meeting with staff. It’s understood the discussion topics included 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”.
When asked by this newspaper if she was referring directly to SWAH, the Minister said: “No absolutely not. I was just pointing out some of the challenges. It’s unfortunate that the language has been taken up in the way that it has. It was never intended to be any kind of slight on the brilliant work that is done here at the South West Acute Hospital.”
She added: “I think it’s important that I came down here today because I very much want to be a Minister who engages with staff. I had frank conversations with them about the direction of travel that we are going to take in terms of transforming health and social care. One of these is the massive opportunities that are here for the South West Acute and Western Trust in general to provide services for all of the people of the North.”
The Minister recently revealed that Ulster University is looking at the potential of developing a medical school in the Western Trust area but would not be drawn on whether this would be partially based at SWAH.
“It’s going to be in the west and we are still in conversation with the university but I think that this would again help to deal with some of the issues around recruitment. The statistics show that where people train, quite often a large number will stay.”
Ms O’Neill also accused Fermanagh MLAs of continually “scaremongering” over the future of acute services in this region.
“Opposition have a job to do but it’s important that they don’t scaremonger or undermine staff and what they do. Quite often the attention on the health service is very negative but there is a lot more positivity in the health service.
“My message to them is help me to transform it because in the end it means better health outcomes for those who need it. I would encourage people not to kneejerk but to work with me. If they are concerned about something come and ask – let’s have that conversation.”
On Thursday, Ms O’Neill also visited the new Omagh Hospital and Primary Care Complex construction site to view ongoing progress. She defended the decision to build a second major hospital just 25 miles from SWAH, despite concerns that it would compete for resources with the Enniskillen hospital.
“The two hospitals were designed to meet the needs of the rural population. It’s important that people have access to all services and the two hospitals will complement each other,” she said.
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