The neo-natal unit at Enniskillen’s South West Acute hospital (SWAH) is no longer under threat after an additional £40 million has been made available to the Department of Health.

In a statement released yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon, a spokesman from the Department of Health said it had received a letter from the Department of Finance authorising it to plan on the basis of an additional £40 million being available in this financial year.

READ: Keep our neo natal services: ‘We need this service to keep our babies alive’

“This is hugely welcomed,” said the Department of Health spokesman, adding: “The Health and Social Care system has faced significant budgetary pressures this year which resulted in Trusts having to consult on savings plans of £70 million in order to meet the statutory obligation for the health and social care system to break even.”

As a result of the extra money, the Western Health and Social Care Trust (Western Trust), which had been tasked with cutting next year’s budget by £12.5 million, will no longer consider the £9.4 million of ‘high impact’ cost saving proposals it had outlined in its savings plan.

“The proposals that will no longer be considered include: the temporary reduction in routine elective care, reduction in provision of domiciliary care packages, consolidation of residential and day care services for older people and the remodelling of neo-natal services at South West Acute Hospital, Enniskillen,” said a Western Trust spokeswoman.

READ: Keep our neo natal services: ‘Without neo-natal ward my son Callum may not have survived’

Around 600 local people recently packed into the Lakeland Forum to voice their strenuous opposition to cuts at SWAH and many concerned parents contacted this newspaper to say their children would not be alive today had it not been for the care they received in the neo-natal unit.
The Trust’s new Chief Executive Anne Kilgallen told the meeting it was important for the Trust “to earn your trust.”

At its extraordinary meeting at the Foyle Arena this Friday, the Western Trust is set to recommend “that the Trust accept no or low impact proposals in the savings plan.”

READ: Keep our neo natal services: ‘When my son Mason was born, he wasn’t breathing

The low impact cuts in the Western Trust’s savings plan equate to £3.1 million, including proposals to increase the hourly rate for paid car parking at the three hospital sites within a new tiered charging scheme; further constraint on pay budgets, including vacancy control across a range of support services and on call; and reduce the usage of a range of external service providers (e.g. to repair equipment and maintain the estate).

The Western Trust spokeswoman continued: “This additional money means we will be able to remove the high impact savings proposals in our savings plan. 

“The draft plan will be put to our extraordinary Trust Board meeting for approval this Friday, October 13 along with the feedback from our consultation process. It will be recommended that the Trust accept no or low impact proposals in the savings plan.”

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

She thanked “all of the individuals and groups who took part in the consultation process and made their views known.” 
Despite the eleventh-hour reprieve, the Department of Health spokesman warned that the financial problems experienced this year “will only grow in intensity as we move forward.” 

He said: “The initial assessment of the financial position for 2018-19 and 2019-20 is that pressures of over some £430 million and £670 million respectively will need to be addressed just to maintain existing services. 
“Demand for health services is growing steadily, as people live longer lives, chronic conditions increase, and new drugs and technologies are developed.”

He continued: “It is absolutely imperative to pursue the reform of the system to safeguard vital services and ensure it is fit for the future. As the Expert Panel, led by Professor Bengoa reported, reform must be addressed in a systematic and sustainable way which is in parallel with improving the quality of services. Transformation plans must continue for our health and social services so that resources are used in the most effective way in the best interests of patients.”

Responding to the announcement, Unison Regional Secretary Patricia McKeown said: “It comes as no surprise that the Department of Health has had to give way in the face of people power."