WHILE its long-term future still remains unclear, the Stroke Unit at South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) has been assessed as the best-performing facility in Northern Ireland.

In the latest report from the Sentinel Stroke National Audit Programme (SSNAP), based on patients treated between April and July 2017, the unit at the SWAH received a Grade A overall – the only one to do so across the province.

The Health and Social Care Board, in partnership with stroke survivors, carers, clinicians and charities, is in the early stages of reshaping stroke services here.

The HSCB say there is “considerable scope for improvement” in Northern Ireland as a whole.

They believe their proposals will lead to better, faster access to experts and rehabilitation services for stroke patients, fewer life-long disabilities and that the changes would ultimately save more lives.

While the HSCB insists that no decision has been taken, local campaigners fear that any changes to services will lead to the downgrading or removal of the Stroke Unit at the SWAH.

During a pre-consultation period for the proposals earlier this year, over 600 people packed into a public meeting at the Killyhevlin Hotel to show their support for local stroke consultant, Prof. Jim Kelly, and his team.

Speaking after the release of the latest stroke audit, Erne North councillor, Raymond Farrell, said: “We really need to end this discussion once and for all on the future of the unit and instead see this hospital as the benchmark for other units in the United Kingdom.

“A hyper acute stroke unit is the natural progression and the best staff need to be attracted to further develop and enhance the service to such a status to complement the excellent team already in situ.”

Meanwhile, Enniskillen councillor Debbie Coyle said she had attended a meeting with Fermanagh Stroke Support Core Group and guests from the HSCB.

She said: “I asked them, in light of the recent SSNAP Audit, how they will consider this rating when bringing forward plans for the future of our Stroke Unit.

“The Board representatives said that they would take the findings of the audit on board.

“They were very impressed with the response from Fermanagh with regard to the pre-consultation.”

A spokeswoman for the HSCB said that information from all the pre-consultation events and the online and paper responses was currently being collated and evaluated.

The spokeswoman said that the results of this evaluation would be used to inform the recommendations of the Regional Reshaping Stroke Services Task and Finish Group, which is working to design the new model of services for Northern Ireland.

She confirmed that the final pre-consultation report was “still under development”.

When it is completed, this report will be published publicly at:

A formal consultation process into the proposals is expected to take place next year.