THERE have been calls for the community to launch a “grassroots campaign” to save emergency surgery at the SWAH.
As reported by the Herald back in April, a review of the emergency surgery provision at the Enniskillen hospital by the Western Trust has raised serious concerns the service may be moved from SWAH to another site.
In June, chief executive Neil Guckian said tough decisions would have to be made regarding the hospital’s acute surgery service, and said the Trust review was assessing the sustainability of the service.
Since then, figures obtained by Cllr Donal O’Cofaigh, a longstanding local health campaigner, have shown consultants from Altnagelvin are now “routinely covering gaps in staffing” at the SWAH, as staffing issues persist at the hospital.
He said it was concerning that, rather addressing the issue by “redoubling recruitment efforts and reviewing the problems with consultant retention,” the Trust appeared to reviewing emergency surgery provision instead.
“The only positive is that the Trust’s commitment that the upcoming review of emergency surgery will not immediately propose an end to 24-hour emergency provision at SWAH,” said Cllr O’Cofaigh.
“What is more the Trust has committed that any change has to be consulted upon and subject to equality and rural screening – this is likely to open up an opportunity for the people of Fermanagh to have their say and put their stamp on events.
“Under any reasonable interpretation of what an equality or rural screening means, it would indefensible to shut down emergency surgery at SWAH. That said, we can’t rely upon those in authority to act reasonably when it comes to cutting services here.”
The Cross-Community Labour councillor expressed frustration that there had been little action from mainstream parties on the issue, stating “there is a sense that this is a done-deal and that there is no point actively opposing it on the ground.” He called on the community to fight against any stripping of services.
“If we allow emergency surgery to be taken away from us, it will be almost impossible to bring it back, and it will be unavoidable that our hospital will then rapidly have services removed or downgraded as they will no longer be sustainable or safe,” said Cllr O’Cofaigh.
Noting the state-of-the-art SWAH had cost the public purse three-quarters of a billion pounds, he added the hospital had the potential to become a world-class cross-border facility if “managed with ambition”, otherwise it could become “a very expensive and glorified local health centre offering publicly-subvented wards to consultants for private-for-profit medicine.”
“There is a clear and present danger to the acute status of SWAH. We must now commence doing the ground work to relaunch a cross-community campaign to defend our vital NHS services. This will not be easy but it is a fight to defend the future of Fermanagh as a vibrant community,” said Cllr O’Cofaigh.
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