New conditions hampering SWAH recruitment

IT HAS been revealed this week that efforts to save the SWAH emergency surgery service are being hampered by the Department of Health itself.

While the Western Trust has been receiving significant criticism locally in recent times over its failure to recruit new surgeons for the Enniskillen hospital, meaning the life-saving service will likely soon be withdrawn, it has now emerged a set of new conditions set out by the Department are seriously preventing its ability to recruit at the hospital.

These conditions are set out in Annex A of the ‘Review of General Surgery in Northern Ireland’ that was published in June. The annex sets out a wide range of requirements for the delivery of emergency surgery at any given hospital.


The Herald understands on good authority these conditions are now having significant implications for the much-needed recruitment of surgeons at the SWAH, although the Trust has not confirmed this.

For example, it is understood consultants for Altnagelvin have offered to cover the emergency surgery rota at the SWAH to save the service until new surgeons can be recruited. However, among the Department’s new conditions is a requirement for emergency surgeons not to operate across more than one site.

Another condition is that “there must be a separation of emergency and elective general surgery pathways in terms of teams, time and facilities to ensure safety and access for all.”

While the Department has told the Herald these teams can both operate on the same site, it insisted again they must be completely separate, which raises sustainability questions about the requirement of two entirely separate teams working at one small hospital. Particularly in light of plans to make SWAH an elective care centre.

Cllr Donal O’Cofaigh, part of the Save Our SWAH Services campaign group, said the news was “a startling revelation.”

“This has changed the entire perspective from what we’ve been told,” he said, referring to the fact until now the problem has been stated as simply being one of no surgeons being available.

Cllr O’Cofaigh said “it appears people have been misled” and that the current situation seemed to be part of a wider plan by the Department of Health that would see the emergency surgery service shut down at the SWAH. He too said he understood doctors from Altnagelvin were being prevented from covering the SWAH rota.


“The point has to be made, the June review that is now in force is the outworkings of the Bengoa reform process, and this is all about closing small, rural acute hospitals,” he said.

Noting the plan “simply does not work in a rural area,” Cllr O’Cofaigh said it was “going to cost the lives of literally hundreds of people if it’s allowed to proceed.”

He said the latest revelation meant the power of the people of Fermanagh may now be even more important.

“The good news, however, is that while this is a major challenge and a huge revelation, it actually offers hope because this is a political choice at the end of the day. This is a choice that’s being made about policy,” he said.

He added, “People power can shift this. We’re getting trampled on here, so we’re going to have to start standing up for ourselves.”


For more on this story, including the Department’s response to this week’s revelations, see this week’s Fermanagh Herald. Can’t get to the shop to collect your copy? No problem! You can download a copy straight to your device by following this link

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