Unions unite in opposition to SWAH cuts

UNIONS across Fermanagh and beyond have been united this week in their opposition to the withdrawal of emergency surgery services from the SWAH, with some donating to the community campaign and others considering industrial action.

This week delegates from public service union Unison from across the North gathered at the Enniskillen hospital to show their solidarity with the local community here and the staff at the hospital, in the wake of last Thursday’s announcement by the Western Trust that the emergency surgery service was to be suspended.

The delegates were in town for the NI Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions conference taking place at the Killyhevlin Hotel on Monday and Tuesday, where a unanimous motion was passed by the unions to save the service. (See below for the full statement released after the motion was passed.)


Speaking to the Herald ahead of the conference, local Unison branch chair Jill Weir said, “It’s concerning about what is happening in emergency surgery. The details for staff are still not finalised. We are very concerned, as usual, about the lack of information we’re receiving, but as a trade union we are working closely with the Trust.

“Our priority, after the community and the patients, is of course as a union is our staff and supporting them through this process.”

The Fermanagh branch of Unite the Union has also been showing its support. At it’s November meeting, held just hours after the Trust’s announcement last Thursday, the members agreed to encourage its members and others to attend the major public rally at the Broadmeadow on December 2nd, where it will be present with its banners.

“The NHS were able to supply consultants to SWAH during the Covid pandemic by using a rota system,” said a Unite spokesman.

“There is no reason why similar thinking outside the box could not be used to protect existing surgical services until a long term solution is found which does not include removing essential services.”

The branch also agreed to donate £2,000 to held fund the campaign to protect the SWAH, with the spokesman saying the union “stands ready to donate more to the campaign if that is needed.”

The Fermanagh Council of Trades Unions has also encouraged its members and their families to join the Broadmeadow rally on December 2nd.


Several of its members have been involved in the campaign to save the service so far, and were present at the impromptu protest at Enniskillen Townhall on Thursday night.

“We welcome the practical support given to the campaign by our affiliate union, Unite, and ask other unions to help the campaign in a similar practical way,” said Jim Quinn.

“We are confident that a united community can defeat yet another attempt by bureaucrats to undermine our hospital and National Health Service.”

Finally, NIPSA said it has met with members of the Trust board to express its concern at the move, both for what it could mean for patients and for jobs at the hospital.

The union said it was supporting the community campaign and was now considering industrial action in response to the move.

“NIPSA is determined to defend emergency surgical services and all the services in SWAH and to fight to protect our health service from privatisation,” said a spokeswoman.


On Thursday 17th November 2022, the Chief Executive of the Western Trust Neil Guckian announced the closure of emergency surgery services in the South West Acute Hospital Enniskillen.

Fermanagh trades council calls on conference to support a campaign to save the SWAH emergency surgical services. It’s all in the word ‘EMERGENCY’.

We in the west do not have the luxury of adequate infrastructure, no motorway, no dual carriage way and no train. If an emergency happens we depend on an already overburdened NIAS (ambulance service) and timely access to our local ED.

Lives depend on emergency surgery within the SWAH. Whether it is a child with a burst appendix or a bleed from an RTA (road traffic accident), the nearest facility is over an hour from here and that’s without maybe a longer journey from the furthest part of this county.

We have an expensive PFI building here, it needs to be utilised effectively for our NHS needs.The community here deserves the same equality of access as anywhere else in Northern Ireland to emergency services.

We believe this has happened because of poor workforce planning on behalf of the Western Trust. They need our emergency general surgeons to ensure their own emergency rotas are compliant. We call on Fermanagh District Council to work with all the local health trade unions, to demand that the WHSCT, the Health minister/ DoH and the Royal College of Surgeons take responsibility to explore options and ensure that we, in a rural part of the country, are safe and have local and timely access to emergency surgery in this state of the art facility.

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