The office of the Fermanagh Stroke Support Group has been a hive of activity lately with members of the public calling to fill in the consultation on the Future of Stroke Services in Northern Ireland.

The Consultation has been launched by the Department of Health (DOH) with six possible options for future care, with four of the six seeing the closure of the Stroke Unit at South West Acute Hospital (SWAH).

Each day, except Tuesday and Sunday, the Fermanagh Stroke Support Group Office at Cross Street in Enniskillen is open to the public with volunteers in attendance to give advice and support to members of the community who want to fill out the consultation.

They have also held meetings throughout the county in various towns to ensure that the message to save the Stroke Unit at SWAH is heard loud and clear.

And the support for the campaign has come from right across the political spectrum with members from various parties acting as volunteers to advise the public.

This week one of those volunteers was Tanya Jones (pictured right|) of the Green Party, but as she explained the provision of stroke care at SWAH is something that should unite everyone from the area:

“This is not a party-political issue. It is an issue about the right of rural people to have proper services and I think that is something that everybody with a genuine interest in the people in this area will get behind,” she explained.

Ms Jones is very clear about the negative affect of any closure to stroke services at SWAH, and she put those thoughts into stark terms:

“It will lead to increased deaths, increased disabilities and will make it much more difficult for people to make a full recovery,” she said before urging as many people as possible to respond to the consultation:

“Come down here or go to one of the sessions in the other towns and villages and there are people to help you through the process. You can say as little or as much as you want. It is about getting people’s personal opinions about the consultation. It is essential that as many as possible respond to this. This is our opportunity to say how important these services are and how desperate the impact will be if they are taken away.”

Ms Jones questioned the rationale of the DOH in using research from large areas of population as a basis of their consultation. “I think a lot of the research that the Department are looking at is research that has taken place in very urban areas in London and Manchester where hospitals are only a few minutes apart and it makes sense in those places to look at size. But in terms of a rural area like this time really is the most important factor.”

The DOH have used studies from Exeter University, that looked at Stroke Service reshaping, in both Manchester and London. The studies themselves stated that a different model may be needed for more rural areas. Ms Jones went on to point out that stroke services at SWAH are of a very high standing while she also spoke about the need for the public to weigh in heavily in the absence of a functioning Stormont, as the decision on the future of SWAH will be in the hands of civil servants.

“We need to keep our excellent services at SWAH. They are the best performing and it makes no sense to take these services away from the people of the area. But we need as many people to have a say as possible. There is no assembly, no checks and measures, no-where to ask questions and scrutinise decision so we need the people to have their voices heard.”