There was widespread criticism about the format of the consultation into the reconfiguration of stroke services in Northern Ireland at an engagement meeting held in the Killyhevlin Hotel last week.

Officials from the Department of Health were in attendance to answer questions from an audience that totalled over 500 in number with a number of speakers stating that the consultation document was “confusing” and that the questions were “loaded”.

One member of the audience highlighted this point while also bringing up the current political vacuum within which this decision is being taken. “It is great that the panel are here to answer our questions and that we are in such expert company.

“It is just a shame that this is not being debated in Stormont,” he said to the very loud agreement of the audience in attendance.

He continued: “Apologies to the squirming MLAs in the room. But my question relates to the consultation.

“I have to say I took a lot of time filling it in and my take away from it is that the questions are extremely difficult. My question is about the methodology of these questions.”

Answering this point was Alastair Campbell, the director of hospital services reform in the Department of Health

“It is a really complex consultation and I can’t argue with you.

“We prefer that people respond online because it is easier for us to analyse the responses but if people are struggling to fill it out then we are very happy to take hard text and have your views that way.”

Tom Elliott, former MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, also spoke about the formation of the consultation document, going one step further, saying.

“It is not just tricky, it is loaded against those who are trying to fill it in,” before going on to question the rationale of closing SWAH.

To this Dr. McBride said that the unit was not earmarked for closure and said that if SWAH was selected as one of the hyper acute stroke units at the end of the consultation, that it would need significant investment as at present it is not a hyper acute stroke unit.

“The more hyper acute stroke units we have the better and easier the access, the trade off is sustainability. And that is why there are options ranging from five to three,” he said.

Dr. McBride also reiterated the comments made by Mr. Campbell in reference to the public giving their views on the consultation.

“We will take comment, feedback and responses in any format. If the form is confusing then just write back. We want your feedback,” he told the meeting.