THE Save Our Acute Surgery (SOAS) group has launched the first in a series of research papers outlining the impact the suspension of emergency general surgery at the SWAH will have on the local population.
This research highlights in stark detail the extra journey times patients requiring emergency surgery from the county now face. It also shows that local people are now up to eight per cent more likely to die if they are in a life-and-death situation, as a result of the suspension of the service.
The research was carried out by the SOAS Research Group, led by Jimmy Hamill who has been working with “retired and active medical professionals” as well as data experts, such as Dr Paul McKenzie from the University of Ulster, who is an expert on Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
Using GIS, Dr McKenzie compiled a report which showed that prior to December 5th, every area of the North had access to a Type 1 Emergency Department with emergency general surgery within the ‘golden hour’ travel band of 60 minutes.
Following the suspension of the service, 58,607 people – 87 per cent of the population of Fermanagh and 3.1 per cent of the population of the North – is now outside that 60 minute travel distance to an ED with emergency surgery.
The research shows patients in the county now face an average travel time of 83 minutes to either Altnagelvin or Craigavon – whichever is closer – to access this emergency service. Two areas – Belcoo and Garrison, and Boho, Cleenish and Letterbreen – face over 100 minutes travel each to access an ED with emergency surgery.
The report also references peer-reviewed research by the University of Sheffield which shows there is a one percent increased risk of mortality for every 10km travelled in a life-threatening emergency.
On average, based on the data gathered by SOAS, Fermanagh patients in a life-threatening emergency are now six per cent more likely to die, while in some areas such as Enniskillen this risk has increased to eight percent.
The group stressed this data referred to life-threatening situations, not all emergency general surgery situations.
The report throws into question claims made by consultants working with the Department of Health that travelling further for treatment will result in better outcomes for the people of Fermanagh.
While the Trust has said the suspension of the emergency general surgery service at the hospital has been unplanned, due to staff shortages, since it announced its suspension last month consultants working with the Department of Health have insisted the removal of the service from the SWAH is in the best interest of both local patients.
They have claimed those who travel for treatment can expect better outcomes, and also stated it will be better for patients across the North, as the hospital could be used as an elective hub which will help bring down regional waiting lists.
The SOAS Research Group noted the data being referenced by these consultants did not examine situations where patients had to travel for more than 60 minutes. Indeed, the group noted a distinct lack of research on situations where patients must travel for the distances now facing Fermanagh patients.
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