‘Trust was given no permission to do this’

THE FERMANAGH man who was special advisor (SpAd) to Robin Swann has confirmed the then Minister of Health rejected requests from the Western Trust to suspended SWAH emergency general surgery (EGS) and instead asked it to produce a risk assessment for the move, which it failed to do.

The Trust then announced the suspension of the surgery service two weeks after Minister Swann had to leave his post due to the continued suspension of the Executive.

Slavin (near Belleek) man, Mark Ovens, who will be contesting outgoing Cllr Alex Baird’s seat in the upcoming local elections, worked very closely under the Minister at the Department of Health. He said Minister Swann had been keeping a close eye on the challenges with the EGS at the Enniskillen hospital.


In late September, Minister Swann was given an update from officials that there were “sustainability issues” with the EGS service at the SWAH due to staff changes. Two weeks later, the Trust requested permission “to announce the cessation of the service the following week.”

“Shortly after that second submission I joined Robin in a meeting with the Western Trust and DoH officials during which there was no permission given,” said Mr Ovens, who said it was “made clear” to the Trust all they could announce was the situation was being closely monitored.

“The Minister then formally submitted a number of written questions and concerns that he had regarding the issue,” he continued.

“For instance, he wanted much more detail on a risk vs benefit analysis that had apparently been carried out, he asked for detail regarding supposed arrangements with NIAS, and he wanted answers and assurances regarding the planned patient pathways.

“Yet by the time Robin and I left the Department of Health a fortnight later on October 28th not a single one of the long list of those points had been responded to.”

With regard the Department’s Review of General Surgery, Mr Ovens, pictured left, said while he believed the review was “a largely positive piece of work” and would provide better outcomes in many cases,  it was accepted it “shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.”

“There were of course going to have to be different approaches in different areas,” he said. “In Belfast there are four major hospitals within a 10-mile radius, so using the same methodology for the SWAH which is nearly 90 minutes away in each direction from it’s closest two hospitals was never going to work.”


Noting the many misunderstandings when the EGS announcement was made by the Trust – from people fearing the SWAH ED was to close, to concerns over C-sections – Mr Ovens said he felt the entire situation “has been handled terribly.”

“The Trust, as well as many elements within the Department, completely underestimated the level of public concern that was likely. It’s as if they had completely forgotten about the previous ‘Save Our Stroke Services’ campaign,” he said.

“Even the irony of how the Trust made the initial public announcement – which was delivered remotely over a video call as they admitted they felt it wasn’t safe to ask staff to travel in the fog – was lost on them given they would soon be asking sometimes very ill patients to travel the exact same route.

“There’s also been a lot of mixed messaging from the Trust, stating initially it was nothing at all to do with the general review of surgery to now trying to claim it’s being heavily influenced by it.”

Mr Ovens also said he was “pretty sceptical” about the announcement to designate the SWAH as an elective overnight centre, at the same time as suspended the EGS service.

“I warned the Department that it would been seen as a fig leaf, and having been closely involved in some of the initial discussions whenever it was first suggested, I remain totally unconvinced about any desire to make it a true regional centre,” he said.

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