Revelations raise doubts over SWAH safety assurances

THE HERALD can reveal the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has not formally approved any safety mitigation measures the Western Trust has put in place to protect SWAH patients in light of the suspension of emergency general surgery services at the hospital.

The Herald can also reveal that a statement by Trust chief executive Neil Guckian, made to Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, that a SWAH consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology has resigned due to “personal reasons” is being strongly disputed, with reliable claims this consultant cited safety concerns over the removal of the service as their reason for resigning.

In light of the above, there have now been calls for the Trust to reconsider its decision to suspended the emergency general surgery service at the hospital.


Last month, when the threat to the emergency surgery service at the SWAH began to become clear, a group of consultants in obstetrics and gynaecology at the SWAH wrote a joint letter to the Sunday Independent stating they were very concerned that the removal of the service would endanger their patients’ safety.

In response to that letter, Mr Guckian stated earlier this month the Trust had “invited in the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to provide assurance on any wider impact. As part of contingency plans, we will consider all recommendations received in feedback from this.”

At the media briefing announcing the temporary withdrawal of the service last Thursday, Trust medical director Dr Brendan Lavery said the regional representative with the RCOG had carried out a review of the Trust’s plan and made recommendations that the Trust had implemented.

However, when contacted by the Herald, the RCOG stated it had not been working with the Trust on these recommendations, clarifying the Trust had sought advice from a local member of its council on an informal basis.

A spokesperson for the RCOG said, “Whilst, as a matter of course, the College does not get involved in local service reconfigurations and has not provided any recommendations on the withdrawal of some surgical services at this Trust, we are aware that the Trust sought informal advice from a local member of the RCOG Council on how to mitigate the impact of these changes.”

When contacted by the Herald regarding the above statement, a spokesperson for the Trust said, “The Trust will be implementing additional measures to ensure the highest quality clinical pathways for obstetric and gynaecological patients at South West Acute Hospital.

“These mitigating measures were developed in conjunction with the Divisional Clinical Director and local Clinical Lead for Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The Trust, having written to the Vice President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) on 21 September, then consulted with the Regional Representative of the RCOG, who was in agreement that these measures would allow patients to be assured of a continued high standard and quality of care.


“To date the three options highlighted were: On site middle tier surgical cover at SWAH, similar to that used in Altnagelvin for unpredictable intraoperative complications; Exploring a private ambulance service contract to transfer acute patients to Altnagelvin; Consideration that all elective cases that are high intermediate risk of bowel surgery are performed in Altnagelvin with extra lists allocated for this.

“All the above have been actioned by the Trust.”


Meanwhile, the Trust has also denied claims that Mr Guckian misled Fermanagh and Omagh Council when he said an obstetrics and gynaecology consultant had resigned last week due to “personal reasons.”

However, the Herald has been told by those who were on a Zoom call last week between staff, unions and Trust officials on the day the suspension of the emergency service was announced – Thursday, November 17th – that this consultant had clearly stated they were resigning due to their safety concerns in light of the removal of the emergency general surgery service.

When contacted by the Herald on this issue, the Trust stated: “The information provided by Trust Chief Executive Neil Guckian to the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council meeting on 17th November was correct. The Trust has received a resignation from an Obstetrics and Gynae Consultant at South West Acute Hospital. A recruitment process has commenced for this upcoming vacancy.”

Local Cllr Donal O’Cofaigh, who is a founding member of the Save Our Acute Services campaign which is holding the ‘Ring of Steel’ demonstration at the SWAH tomorrow (Saturday) at 3pm, was also told by those on the Zoom meeting that the consultant had resigned “as a result of concerns for patients’ safety.”

“This would directly contradict what we have been told by Mr Guckian, who was flatly asked the questions whether any consultants had left as a result of this decision,” said Cllr O’Cofaigh.

“Indeed I understand there are a growing number, unfortunately, of consultants who are actively seeking opportunities elsewhere as a result,” he added. “My fear is that this outcome will actually lead to a further destabilisation and I have no confidence, frankly, in the wherewithal or even the commitment of the Trust to do anything to prevent reaching a point which undermines service provision.”

When informed of the statement from the RCOG, he said it again contradicted what had been stated by the Trust. He said the revelation undermined confidence in the mitigation measures announced by the Trust.

“I would call, on the basis that this alone, for a reconsideration of the decision to remove emergency general surgery from SWAH,” he said.

To read more.. Subscribe to current edition

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


The Fermanagh Herald is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 28 Belmore Street, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, BT74 6AA