Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has urged the Western Trust to find another way to pay off its substantial PFI (private finance initiative) deal so the South West Acute Hospital’s day-to-day budget will be freed up to spend on service delivery.

In response to the Trust’s public consultation on its controversial financial plan to save £12.5 million in the next financial year, the Council has voiced “serious concerns.”

READ: Trust launches controversial £12.5million Savings Plan

The savings plan suggests a reform of SWAH’s neonatal service provision to a transitional care based service which will mean that babies requiring special care services will be managed within the Paediatric Ward with a Specialist Neonatal Nurse in attendance, and may impact on capacity in the Paediatric ward.

The Council “strongly opposes” this proposal, stating: “Any change to the neonatal services could have a long-term detrimental impact to hospital. If these changes are implemented, expectant mothers may wish to have their babies elsewhere causing the numbers using the maternity ward to fall as well as causing long-term reputational damages to the hospital.”

READ: Neo natal ward that cared for our twins under threat

Other cost-cutting measures include: increasing car parking charges at the Trust’s three hospitals, a ‘rationalisation and consolidation’ of day-care services affecting Dromore and Rosslea, the loss of eight to 10 nursing home beds, an estimated 275 domiciliary care packages not being put in place, a reduction in routine elective surgery and cutting the number of locum staff employed through non-contracted agencies which would result in the closure of 30 beds across the Trust.

The Council believes it is “unacceptable for an organisation with the objective of delivering healthcare services particularly to an ageing population” to be expected to make savings for eight consecutive years.
It opposes a reduction in agency/locum staff, saying such a move would “have a significant detrimental impact upon service delivery.” 

The only circumstance where the Council could support the reduction in the number of locum staff would be if the Trust were successful in attracting sufficient numbers of permanent health professionals into the district. 

“More needs to be done to attract medical professionals to South West Acute Hospital and it would help if some of the regional services were provided from this location,” the Council said.

Travel times facing residents of Fermanagh and Omagh and an ageing population are highlighted in the Council’s response.
The Council suggests that the Trust progresses cross border partnership working “which may provide an additional revenue stream and much needed additional income.”

The Bengoa report was correct, according to the Council, when it said it is time to reduce the number of acute hospitals in Northern Ireland.
“The Council believes that the Western Trust area, in particular the Fermanagh and Omagh District, has been negatively impacted upon because of the number of hospitals in the eastern area of Northern Ireland. 

“The Council believes that this should be presented to the Department of Health and would be happy to liaise with the WHSCT representatives on this,” the response states.

The SWAH was purchased through a 30-year PFI contract. 

READ: Multi-million pound SWAH PFI payback revealed

The HM Treasury database shows that since 2012 a total of £82.6 million has been paid for the state-of-the-art hospital, beginning with £14 million in 2012 and rising to £17.5 million in 2016-17. 

For the next 24 years, annual payments, which come from SWAH’s day-to-day budget, will gradually rise to a total of £700 million by 2042.
Referring to the PFI, the Council stated: “The Council encourages the Trust to collaborate with the Department for Health to secure a more cost-efficient method of meeting these repayments. If, for example, the Department for Health (or Western Trust) secured funding then this would free up an additional £10 million (approx.) per year which could be spent on other healthcare services.”