Western Health and Social Care Trust Chief Executive, Dr. Anne Kilgallen, has said that she “absolutely” understands the frustrations of staff at South West Acute hospital over the decision by the Trust not to publicly back the retention of stroke services at the hospital.

In a wide ranging interview with the Impartial Reporter Dr. Kilgallen spoke about the Department of Health’s (DOH) stroke consultation, the difficulty the Trust has has in recruiting consultants, a new direction in domiciliary care and what she considers to have been a very worthwhile and “powerful experience” in the shape of the Trust’S Pathfinder engagement programme.

Dr. Kilgallen was speaking during a break in the Pathfinder Health Summit that took place at the Ardhowen theatre in Enniskillen this week.

Last week in a statement from the Trust in relation to the DOH stroke consultation Dr. Kilgallen stated that the Trust was “very pleased that both the South West Acute and Altnagelvin Hospitals are part of the options being considered.”

This came a week after the Trust had originally said it would be making no comment.

This paper told Dr. Kilgallen that sources working within the hospital had revealed that there was a “great deal of frustration among staff about the Trust’s stance” and asked did she understand that frustration.

“I absolutely do. The service in South West Acute Hospital is really a high achieving service and very effective. It is an excellent service,” Dr. Kilgallen stated but she went on to say that she had to “maintain the principals of consultation”:

“From my perspective the consultation is about the configuration for the 1.8m people who live in Northern Ireland. I feel strongly that I cannot and should not adopt a position, that it should be an open consultation. That is the only reason I am not speaking more definitively, and in the interest of everybody I do not want to give the sense that there is a pre-determined answer. I am trying to maintain the principals of consultations, that it should be open.”

Dr. Kilgallen did call on people to get involved in the consultation:

“The consultation is so important and it is so important that South West Acute Hospital is included in the options and I would urge everyone to get involved and speak about the value of the service to them”.

In relation to the Pathfinder project, which aims to change for the better the services and care that is offered to people in Fermanagh and West Tyrone, Dr. Kilgallen reported that she was “very pleased” with how it has progressed:

“The fact that we have managed to be in conversation with 2,200 people right across the disperse geography is very pleasing. And we have started to distil messages that are important to us and the communities they have come from. It has been a two-way conversation and a powerful experience.”

Seven Experts by Experience, chosen from the community, have been appointed to contribute to the next phase of the Pathfinder project that will see the delivery of a final report in June of this year.

Responding to criticism from some lobby groups around the fact that minutes were not kept for engagement meetings, Dr. Kilgallen was clear the conclusions that Pathfinder makes will be based “entirely on what people have said to us”.

“I think at the start none of us really thought about keeping detailed minutes. We wanted to get out and have a conversation and hear in broad brush what people felt, and capture the themes. We felt we needed to go out and earn trust and then invite people to work with us.I am so aware that we have to earn trust, that it is not a given.”

In recent weeks the Trust has announced that it will take over the running of Drumclay Nursing Home with Dr. Kilgallen revealing that she wanted the Trust to “learn from the best” with respect to how to deliver domiciliary care most effectively:

“Obviously it is needed in the here and now. Ideally, we would like a number of stakeholders involved. Leaving everything to the Trust to deliver is difficult and challenging,” she stated:

“But given the demand and the change in the population and the real need that is out there we do have to think differently. This is a first step for us, and we do need to think of a strategy but we will have to talk to others including the private nursing homes and also learn from what is working well in other places.”

Another area of pressure that the Trust has experienced in recent times has been in the recruitment of consultants with Dr. Kilgallen admitting that there are challenges in this respect:

“There are specialities in which there are shortages such as radiology and neurology and those people have their pick of places to work and the trend now is, in many instances, to work in places where there are bigger teams. So where there are shortages and it is a real challenge,” she said, adding:

What we try and do is get the most out of the specialists that we have and we are moving towards a system where we have multi-disciplinary teams so that while you may have a small number of expert doctors you also have a range of AHPs (allied health professionals) and expert nurses who can deliver care in a very reliable way after diagnosis.”

Dr. Kilgallen was one of 11 speakers at the Pathfinder Health Summit held this week.