Review is hampering efforts to save SWAH surgery

DESPITE previously denying they played a direct role in the collapse of SWAH emergency general surgery, the Western Trust has now confirmed the Department’s of Health’s new surgery standards are making it extremely difficult to save and sustain the life-saving service in Enniskillen.
As reported by the Herald back in November, the Review of General Surgery that was published by the Department of Health in June included a set of standards Trusts must meet to maintain the delivery of emergency surgery at any given hospital.
For example, these standards require that emergency surgeons do not work across two sites, which would mean Altnagelvin and the SWAH could not share emergency surgeons. They also require emergency and elective care pathways are kept completely separate, which would be difficult in small hospital such as the SWAH, which has been selected as an elective care centre to bring down waiting lists.
The Herald had previously asked the Trust about this issue repeatedly and was told on it was “irrelevant” and “a separate issue” from the unplanned collapse of the surgery service.
However, at a special Council meeting that was address by Trust officials on Monday night, Trust chief executive Neil Guckian stressed numerous times these standards would now make it difficult to reinstate the emergency general surgery service at the SWAH.
Explaining the conditions were now “government standards”, Mr Guckian referred to them repeatedly during Monday night’s meeting.
“I cannot understate how challenging it would be to meet these new standards in the South West Acute Hospital,” he said.
Cllr Rosemary Barton, pictured below, however, pointed out the report left it open to Trusts themselves how they implemented the standards. She also noted the Trust had waited until former Health Minister Robin Swann had to leave his post before announcing the suspension of the service.
“We need to be clear there were never any blank cheques written for the Trust to do whatever they wanted,” she said.
“That was made clear by the repeated refusal, as I’m sure you’re aware, of Robin Swann to sign off on the service change in the weeks before he left his post in October, yet the Trust still chose to drive coach and horse through democracy and accountability by still proceeding with this change as soon as there was no minister in post.”
Local campaign group Save Our Acute Services (SOAS) has now questioned the “change of tactics” by the Trust in its message about the Department’s standards.
SOAS secretary Helen Hamill noted during Monday night’s meeting the Trust did not refer to its own internal review of surgery services, which was due to be completed in the summer but has yet to be published. She also questioned why the Trust had attempted – but failed – to recruit five new general surgeons for Altnagelvin in October, which the Trust said would also be able to work at SWAH.
“The Swann report came out last June,” she said, referring to the general review. “If they knew that then they weren’t adhering the standards, why did they go through the recruitment process in October?”

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