SWAH stroke unit saved after six year battle

AFTER six years with its future hanging in the balance, the threat of closure over the SWAH stroke unit was finally lifted this week.
On Monday Health Minister Robin Swann announced the Department of Health had decided not to continue with its previous proposals in the ‘Reshaping Stroke Care’ review, which had proposed closing the unit and introducing a centralised model of ‘hyperacute’ stroke care.
The decision came after years of pressure from the Fermanagh public, with thousands coming out to protest against the threat – which first emerged in 2016 – and thousands more submitting objections via the subsequent public consultation.
The review had been put on hold during the Covid pandemic, leaving the future of the unit uncertain, however D-day finally arrived on Monday this week, when the Department published its ‘Reshaping Stroke Care’ action plan. The document confirmed the news campaigners in the county had been hoping for.
In a foreward to the document, which praised the SWAH unit as being one of the best in the North, Minister Swann said he had listened to the 19,000 responses to the public consultation, which he said had reflected “deep concern about the potential impact on local services from the introduction of hyperacute stroke care.”
“In arriving at the priorities and actions identified in this paper I have listened carefully to those responses,” he said. “While I remain convinced about the potential of – and need for – hyperacute stroke care in NI, I am also clear that we cannot at this time move forward with the options outlined in Reshaping Stroke Care.”
Minister Swann added a new process for the options of a hyperacute stroke care would now be examined for the future, but noted it would take “several years” and a lot of additional funding, which would be difficult to secure, before it could progress.
The news has obviously been warmly welcomed locally, however with Minister Swann’s suggestion there could be another review in years to come, the local community is being urged to stay on standby to fight any potential threats to the internationally-renowned SWAH unit in future.
Fermanagh and Omagh branch manager at the union Unison, Jill Weir, welcomed the news, but said local people would be alert to any future threats of closure.
“After the brilliant campaign from the people of Fermanagh and our Tyrone neighbours, we welcome that the Minister has decided to review the approach to the location of stroke services,” she said.
“We note that the Minister has recognised that there are legitimate concerns around the location of stroke services. As part of undertaking a fresh analysis, we hope that the minister will take into consideration all of the evidence and concerns from our location. I don’t believe that this is the end of our fight but am assured that if needed the people will come out again to protect this local, award-winning service.
“We were proud to be a part of the local campaign ‘ Save our Stroke Services’ , headed by the Fermanagh Stroke Support Group and will do so again if called.”

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