THE DEPARTMENT of Health has stated the current threat to SWAH emergency surgery is a result of a fragile workforce, but that “no amount of additional funding or workforce planning can resolve this challenge alone.”
The Department was responding to questions from the Herald regarding the revelation that conditions set out in its June review of surgery services across the North was now hampering recruitment efforts at the SWAH, in turn putting the emergency surgery service – and local lives – at risk.
“The Department is aware of the fragility of the emergency general surgical position at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) that is a consequence of an unsustainable consultant workforce,” a spokeswoman stated. “The Department is supporting the Western Trust as it seeks to address this fragility.
“Earlier this year, the former Health Minister published the review of general surgery, which spells out the challenges of the current configuration of general surgery in Northern Ireland, which is not meeting modern demands because of increasing surgical specialisation, new technology, capacity gaps within the current structure and increase in demand.
“Unfortunately no amount of additional funding or workforce planning can resolve this challenge alone.”
The spokeswoman continued, “The review of general surgery is not about closing any hospitals, instead it is about ensuring that optimum and sustainable care can be provided to patients.
“Given the huge and growing demand for health and social care, we will continue to need every inch of our hospital estate, and this is certainly the case for SWAH.
“This review sets out concrete plans for the establishment of Elective Overnight Stay Centres for patients requiring intermediate complexity surgery with an overnight stay.”
The spokeswoman said the Trust was working with the Department to develop plans for an elective overnight stay centre at the SWAH, that would take patients from across the North and help bring down waiting times.
“This will ensure that SWAH remains a vibrant site for planned care, not just for its local population but also for the region with surgeons and patients alike travelling to SWAH from different parts of Northern Ireland for a range of surgical procedures. It will play an important role in tackling lengthy waiting lists and improving outcomes for patients.”
The spokeswoman added the review into surgery services had been based on “evidence-based standards for emergency and elective general surgery that will be used to drive regional and local decisions on the future delivery of emergency general surgery in Northern Ireland.”
“It recognises that some hospitals will be able to meet these standards with developments within their existing footprints and within existing budgets, and some hospitals will not meet these standards as currently configured. This means a higher standard of care will be delivered by reconfiguration of service delivery and cross-organisational working.
“Implementation of these standards will facilitate the separation of emergency and elective surgery and, as such, will create and protect more capacity for elective care – with better patient outcomes across the whole general surgery spectrum.
“The separation between elective and emergency surgery is in line with best practice and it should also be noted that this separation does not require separate hospitals, ie one site can host both kinds of surgery if the processes are separated.”
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