GENERAL surgery will continue at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) but the Western Trust have warned that consultant surgeons need to be recruited in order to safeguard the long-term future of the service.
Speculation has mounted in recent weeks that the SWAH would lose all emergency surgery facilities with the nightmare scenario of patients needing treatment having to be transported to other hospitals such as Altnagelvin in Derry or even across the border at Sligo.
The Western Trust announced today that while the surgery facility would remain open, the recruitment of new consultants was urgently required in order to provide quality service that would safeguard patient safety.
Geraldine McKay, Director of Acute Services at the Western Trust said: “We have become increasingly concerned at the fragility of emergency general surgery at the SWAH.
“Despite our efforts to recruit, we have not been successful to date in securing the necessary consultant workforce. In recent months, the Trust has highlighted the challenges of recruiting and retaining experienced consultant surgeons to provide the service.
“This is not a question of funding but maintaining the required workforce. The Trust is funded for six consultant surgeons to provide the service and we are currently working with three surgeons supported by locums.
“In recent days, we have been notified of forthcoming changes in the staff team which unless restored will leave it impossible to sustain a safe emergency general surgery service at the hospital.
“While intensive recruitment efforts will continue, we also have to prepare for a future in which these do not prove successful.
“No matter the outcome, however, it is important to stress that elective surgery at the hospital will continue and there would be minimal to no impact on the other existing services at the SWAH.”
Meanwhile, Health Minister Robin Swann has emphasised his commitment to the SWAH after the Western Health and Social Care Trust detailed the fragility of emergency general surgery services at the hospital.
The Minister said: “The situation regarding emergency general surgery at SWAH will undoubtedly be a matter of serious concern in the local community.
“I would stress that no decision has been made and no recommendation has come to me from the Trust Board. I have emphasised to the Trust that it must leave no stone unturned in its ongoing recruitment efforts. I accept it must plan for every eventuality and I expect to see a comprehensive plan. Constructive engagement is vitally important as the way forward is explored.
“Earlier this year, I published the review of general surgery, which spells out the challenges of the current configuration of these services in Northern Ireland.
“This review sets out concrete plans for safer and more sustainable provision and I believe it will help guide decision-making for SWAH. This can include an expansion of non-emergency elective surgery at the hospital.
“I remain committed to progressing the transformation of Northern Ireland’s health service. The reconfiguration design plan for our hospital network which my Department is developing will provide clarity on the way ahead.
“I have been clear that we will continue to need every square inch of capacity in each of our hospitals and that is certainly the case for SWAH.”
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