THERE is a small glimmer of hope that the local community campaign to save emergency general surgery at the South West Acute Hospital is having an impact, on the back of new comments from the Department of Health to the Herald.
Essentially, the Department has now confirmed to the ‘Herald that when the planned Elective Overnight Stay Centre is opened at the SWAH, general surgeons will be able to assist with emergency life-and-death situations.
This is a new development, with it previously stated elective and emergency surgery pathways must be kept separate, as set out in the Department’s Review of General Surgery, published in June.
One of the gravest concerns of the local community since it was announced last month that emergency general surgery at the SWAH was to be suspended, due to a lack of surgeons, has been that patients who urgently need emergency surgical intervention may not survive the lengthy journey to other hospitals for treatment.
The Western Trust has repeatedly stated such scenarios have been rare at the SWAH, however that has provided little comfort to the Fermanagh community worried about their own and loved ones’ lives.
There has also been grave concern as to what would happen a patient if life-threatening complications arose during non-emergency surgery and other procedures, prompting significant fear about the knock-on affect removing emergency surgery from the hospital would have on other SWAH services.
While by no means a solution to the crisis, and while it will also depend on a number of factors, comments from the Department this week have given some hope that cover could eventually be in place to deal with both scenarios.
In a letter delivered to Fermanagh and Omagh Council last week, permanent secretary at the Department, Peter May, stated if the planned Elective Overnight Stay Centre, whenever it is opened at the SWAH, was carrying out general surgery procedures it would “ensure a general surgical presence that can provide to support other specialties.”
When contacted by the Herald for clarity on what this meant, a spokesman for the Department replied, “An elective overnight stay centre means that there will be medical cover at the SWAH including a core team of doctors. This can include general surgeons.”
When asked for further clarity on this, particularly in light of the conditions set out in its Review of General Surgery, the Department confirmed, “To ensure the very best patient outcomes, separation of elective and emergency care is important.
“This means a doctor scheduled for elective work should not be used for emergency work.
“However, on the rare occasion that a general surgeon working on elective patients in a hospital is required to provide surgical support in an emergency situation, they would do so.”
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