Momentum keeps building behind SWAH campaign

THE CAMPAIGN to save SWAH emergency surgery certainly stepped up a gear in recent weeks, with the community uniting behind the inspiring Save Our Acute Services (SOAS) mass letter drive, and it’s been in no small part down to a dedicated group of passionate volunteers.
Retired teacher Toni Johnson was part of the SOAS group – made up mostly of women – who travelled the length and breadth of the county gathering signatures for the ‘Five Point Plan’ letters, which were submitted to the SWAH last week as its public consultation came to an end.
Toni said she was blown away by the response to the campaign across the county, and how the attitude of most in the community had shifted from one of quiet acceptance of the cuts to the hospital when the emergency surgery service was first withdrawn, to one where the feeling was now very much “yes we can.”
“In the beginning when we started, it wasn’t as frantic,” she said. “You got people saying there’s no point in doing that, but that all stopped. People began to realise this momentum was building and building.”
From supermarkets to schools, sports clubs to theatres, Toni and the team – which she said was made up of “such an eclectic mix of people” – set up stalls and made calls right across the county to give people the chance to sign the letters, over 30,000 of which were submitted to the Trust’s consultation.
At the same time, SOAS was holding community meetings in local towns and villages to explain the letters, and provide updated information on the current situation at the hospital.
Toni said almost everyone who encountered the group gathering the signatures “were delighted we were actually doing it” and were very keen to add their voice to the campaign.
“You have people who are now passionate about this – that it is wrong, that it is not what should be happening, and they will not have it,” she said. “I think once you have that in a community like ours, you’ve got it all really.”
Noting the stark map created by SOAS to show the isolation Fermanagh patients had been left in, she added, “I think the sense of unfairness has come through on this.”
Toni added she had been inspired by the strong sense of community spirit that she had encountered.
One of the locations the group set up a stall was at the Enniskillen Mart, where the local farming community showed its strength of support for the campaign. Toni said that – like everywhere they had been – the farmers shared their own experiences with injuries and illnesses, and expressed grave concern about what would happen in similar situations now there was no local emergency surgery service.
“We got 280 signatures in two hours. All the farmers came out, and the young fellas went in and brought the farmers out. It was great,” she said.

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