THE South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) has announced the first overnight procedures of its elective surgery unit but the Western Trust admit that the return of emergency surgery is still some way off.
An announcement by the Department of Health last year stated that the SWAH would become a regional overnight elective stay centre for overnight patients.
This came at a time when uncertainty over the emergency surgery’s future which was suspended last month following a review.
Fermanagh residents have made their feelings known over this ‘temporary halt’ via a number of meetings and protest. But despite this latest announcement, the lack of a return of the emergency facility will do little to calm the anger fuelled by its withdrawal.
When asked if the elective surgery announcement meant the death knell for emergency services in Fermanagh, Neil Guckian, Western Trust Chief Executive, said: “No. What we’re having in regard to that is only a temporary suspension in emergency surgery.
“I have to be very clear on this – we have to be very honest with our population. The circumstances that we will need to meet to be able to reinstate emergency general surgery. That is a full workforce. We need a majority of our consultants to be substantive and we have to meet the new standards that Ministers introduced in June last year.
“Those involve, as well as the workforce guideline, there’s also clinical inter-dependencies such as CT scanning available 24 hours a day and seven days week, cardiology, renal medicine and rapid access to interventional radiology. Unfortunately, we aren’t able to meet those standards at present.
The Herald then asked Guckian on how it was that the elective surgery unit would be able to be properly staffed when Trust was unable to meet the workforce requirements for the emergency surgery unit.
Guckian replied: “They are very different environments. The general surgeons who will be working here are employed by other Trusts.
“They’ll be coming in and doing a week here, or a number of days here while staying overnight and being resident.
“It’s a different situation because for emergency general surgery, you need people to be resident round the clock, all year long in order to sustain the service.
“You can’t have a service that is working today and then is not there tomorrow – that’s not safe.”
But wouldn’t using staff from other Trusts be problematic if those Trusts experienced employment issues themselves and wanted to retain those staff members instead of allowing them to work shifts at the SWAH?
Guckian replied: “It’s a surgical network across Northern Ireland that will be supporting this. So this is an extremely exciting development for the hospital.
“We’re working on recruitment to staff the new development. We’re always out on recruitment for consultants to come and work in the western area.
“The great advantage of having a regional unit. You’re not relying on one Trust – it’s the entire surgical region that will support it.
“That makes it much more sustainable into the future.”
One of the benefits of having an elective surgery unit, according to Guckian, is that it will help to reduce the waiting lists for patients needing surgery and overnight care – which currently stands at 124,000.
He said: “Not only does this new development address waiting lists across Northern Ireland, it’s a well-timed confidence boost for this brilliant hospital.
“It’s not about one (surgery) or the other. The new development will help us focus on waiting times in the future.”
To read more.. Subscribe to current edition