LOCAL patients have been contesting claims by the Western Trust that it is not its normal practice to ask Fermanagh patients to make their own way to Altnagelvin for surgery.
Since the suspension of the emergency general surgery service at the SWAH in December, local patients requiring unplanned surgery now have to be treated in Derry. The Trust has repeatedly stated these patients would be transferred via ambulance, however some local patients have reported being asked to get loved ones to take them via private transport instead.
As part of its launch of its vision for a new SWAH last week, the Save Our Acute Services group noted it had been working closely with local patients, many of whom had reported being asked to make their own way to Altnagelvin, contrary to the Trust’s ‘patient pathways’.
The group disputed other Trust mitigations to deal with the suspension of the surgery service – such as planning with the Ambulance Service – noting NIAS had actually currently had a reduced not increased capacity.
SOAS has also reported a very strong response to a recent story by the Herald, which included a statement from the Trust which said “it is not part of the Trust’s normal contingency arrangements to ask patients to make their way to Altnagelvin Hospital for surgical input.”
The Trust added some patients may choose to make their own way to Altnagelvin, and said it was not aware of instances in which patients had to wait long periods of time for ambulance transfer.
Patients have since contacted both SOAS and the Herald to state otherwise, reporting it had been suggested to them at the SWAH ED that the wait for an ambulance would be so long they would be better making their own way for surgery.
One patient – who required surgery for a common yet potentially life-threatening condition – said they were told it would be “in your best interest” to get their partner to drive them to Derry. They have also reported a “chaotic” system when they arrived at Altnagelvin.
Having presented at the SWAH ED before lunchtime, tests were carried out and they were deemed to be in need of surgery. Having been told there was no need to be overly concerned, the patient was told they would be transferred via ambulance.
However, due to the wait for the transfer, they were then told it would be in their best interest to make their own way to the other hospital.
Once they arrived in Altnagelvin, they were put in a waiting bay in its ED – not taken straight to a ward as the Trust previously stated would be the case for SWAH patients.
The patient was told they could need their surgery that night, but it would be better to wait until the morning. When the morning came, they were told they could not be taken into theatre until they were admitted to a ward.
They were eventually taken into surgery at 3pm, more than 24 hours after presenting to the SWAH. Once in the theatre, it was then discovered one of their sets of notes had gone missing in the process.
The following day when they asked what time they would be discharged – explaining to the Derry staff their partner had to travel two hours to collect them – no one could give them an answer.
When contacted by the Herald, the Trust once again said it was not normal contingency arrangements to ask patients to make their way to Altnagelvin for surgery. A spokesman added “patients are clinically prioritised on the basis on individual need.”
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