LOCAL campaigners fighting to have emergency gerneral surgery restored at the South West Acute Hospital have said they will continue to ask questions of the powers-that-be regarding local health services, in light of a statement from the Department of Health that called the questioning of the motivations of public officials “not acceptable.”
The Department issued the statement yesterday afternoon (Tuesday) calling for “respectful public debate on the future of health and social care services.”
The statement did not specify it was referring to the intense and emotional feelings being expressed locally over the future of SWAH emergency general surgery, and was issued as a general release.
However, coming just hours after the widely-reported heated public consultation meeting on the future of SWAH emergency surgery at the Lakeland Forum on Monday night – which was attended by both representatives of the Western Trust and from the Department – it appears to be directed to the people of Fermanagh.
“Communities rightly value local services very highly and are fully entitled to strongly advocate for their retention,” it stated.
“However, vigorous debate should not spill over into personal abuse and vilification. Likewise, questioning the honesty or motivations of public officials is not acceptable.”
The statement added, “It is a reality of modern medicine that every hospital in Northern Ireland cannot provide every hospital service.
“This has been set out in detail in relation to general surgery by the Northern Ireland wide review published by the Department last June – www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/review-offers-new-future-general-surgery-services
“Some medical specialties require larger catchment areas and a certain level of patient numbers. This facilitates greater specialisation by clinicians, better recruitment and retention of staff, and more durable and safer care.
“Securing the optimum distribution of hospital services – the right care, in the right place, at the right time – is an extremely difficult and challenging task.”
Today, the Save Our Acute Services campaign group responded to the statement, believing it was “clearly releated” to the ongoing consultation on the future of SWAH emergency general surgery.
A spokesperson for SOAS questioned the need for the statement at all.
“In our case, Fermanagh and Tyrone are the only areas of Northern Ireland who now have to travel more than one hour – in some cases over two hours – to get to the nearest [hospital with emergency general surgery],” they said.
“The Fermanagh and Tyrone community is unwilling to accept being treated as second-class citizens. Our community believes it has been treated as collateral damage in the drive to centralise health services across Northern Ireland.
“We will continue to question and challenge inaccurate, misleading information when it is presented to us from any source.”
They added, “It is of paramount importance that our acute services are maintained at the SWAH to ensure the population of Fermanagh and Tyrone can access vital emergency services in a timely way and in an equal way to all other areas of NI.
“We refer to DoH’s own ‘Review of Urgent and Emergency Care Services’ published in March 2022 which stated: ‘My vision for the future is to ensure that all citizens in Northern Ireland have equal access to safe urgent and emergency care services, tailored to their specific needs at the right time and in the right place.’
“We believe the removal of emergency surgery fails to deliver safe, timely, urgent and emergency care to our community.
“So we do – and we will continue to – question the motivation of the public officials, who determinedly ignore the exceptional situation of increased morbidity and avoidable deaths to which Fermanagh and Tyrone people will uniquely be subjected.”
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