People power and politics saved SWAH stroke unit

PEOPLE power combined with political representation saved the SWAH stroke unit, with the special advisor to former Health Minister Robin Swann revealing the minister rejected an official proposal to close the life-saving unit.
The importance of having a politically accountable Health Minister in place has been highlighted by Fermanagh man Mark Ovens, who worked with former Minister Swann at the Department of Health for three years.
Mr Ovens stressed there were “some very genuine and committed officials working within the Department,”. However, he often had “frustrations with the system.”
He said he “often felt there was little awareness or understanding of the strength of feeling regarding the SWAH.”
“For instance, Robin was only in post a few weeks before a paper – or a submission as they are known in government speak – was sent to him asking him to formally sign off on the closure of several stroke units, including the one at the SWAH,” said Mr Ovens.
“That was despite the fact that during the major consultation exercise the summer before, many thousands of people had responded and critically many clinicians were raising very real safety concerns about the proposals…
“It became clear however on reading that particular stroke services submission that it was riddled with real flaws, hugely underestimating the number of projected future strokes, no sufficient workforce plan and placing far too many patients in only three hyper acute stroke units for the whole of NI …
“Needless to say it wasn’t approved and in hindsight it was noted by some officials that Robin rejecting it was absolutely the correct decision.”
Mr Ovens stated he believed no major decisions should be taken in the absence of “political or democratic oversight” and felt the ongoing absence of an Executive was “causing real and long-term damage.”
“Had we a Health Minister in post – regardless of whatever party they came from – I suspect things would be happening very differently,” he said.

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