SWAH surgery removal putting pressure on ambulances

THERE is concern the removal of emergency general surgery (EGS) from the SWAH is putting pressure on the local ambulance service, with hundreds of patients needing transferred to from Enniskillen to Altnagelvin last year.

Figures obtained by Save Our Acute Services (SOAS) show that from January 2023 to January 2024 the NI Ambulance Service (NIAS) made 718 transfers from the Enniskillen hospital to Altnagelvin.

Noting a recent patient waited two hours for an ambulance to Derrylin in an emergency, SOAS said it was clear the removal of EGS from the SWAH was having a knock-on affect on ambulance response times.


“NIAS does not have the capacity to cover the Fermanagh area. It is plain as day at this stage it is not able,” said a SOAS spokeswoman.

“The three ambulance configuration was an algorithm worked out to cover the population of Fermanagh, and bring them to the closest hospital when SWAH was the closest hospital for all cases.

“At the moment they have the same configuration and they have to travel two hours to Derry, two hours back down, and what ever waiting time there is in Derry.

“It is impossible to figure out the outcomes and the effects those long waits have on the patients that are travelling in an ambulance from a hospital to another hospital due to this decision.”

They also pointed out the Air Ambulance, which is dispatched by NIAS, was a charitable initiative that was only available in good weather and during limited hours.

SOAS said it was aware of the Air Ambulance being dispatched twice to Fermanagh over the Easter holidays, and it had been dispatched 22 times to the area in less than a year.

“It is not sustainable ambulance cover, but it would also not be able to cover cases in Fermanagh where you are in a rural area in poor weather and after five o’clock,” they said.


“People need to realise the helicopter is a ‘sometimes’ available tool. Only that, it will never be more than that.”

SOAS also noted the transfers by NIAS only accounted for around half of all ambulance transfers from the SWAH to Derry, with the Western Trust also employ private ambulances to make the journeys.

“The number of ambulances dispatched by NIAS doesn’t correspond remotely to the figures in the Western Trust infographic,” they said.

They added, “We don’t know how many different private companies are covering, or how much they cost, but we have had a patient report that they were told, in banter while waiting many hours to get into Altnagelvin, having been sent there from a ward in SWAH, that their journey cost over £1,200 and that was with one of the private companies currently used by the Trust.”

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