There were many contributors from the floor at the recent public meeting on the future of stroke services in Northern Ireland held in the Killyhevlin Hotel.

Over 500 people attended the meeting that was arranged by the Department of Health (DoH). The meeting was called following the publication of a consultation the DoH released last month.

The consultation has put forward six possible options for the reconfiguration of stroke services with four of the options seeing the closure of services at South West Acute Hospital.

There was a great deal of frustration and anger in the room at the possibility of losing this vital service to the area.

Three of the four health chiefs at the top table were the subject of much of the frustration with the fourth, Professor Jim Kelly, receiving rapturous applause after each and every contribution to the meeting.

Professor Kelly leads the stroke service team at SWAH and he referred time and again to the work of his colleagues and the fact that according to audits rating stroke units across the UK that SWAH was the best performing unit in Northern Ireland and one of the very best throughout the whole UK.

Indeed this was a consistent theme from speakers of the floor with stroke survivor, David White, commenting:

“This gentleman (Dr. Kelly) says we have the best service. We know we have the best service, so why are we even having this consultation,” he said to the approval of the crowd in attendance.

“The amount of money that is being wasted when all you have to do is look at the facts and the results. You know, there was an advertisement on television years ago for fertiliser and the wee lad asked his grandfather ‘how do we know it is the best?’ and he said, ‘results son, results’”.

The Chief Medical Officer of the Belfast Trust, Dr. Michael McBride, speaking from the top table assured the audience that “there is no dishonesty on my part”.

He was responding to an assertion from the audience that the consultation was a “done deal” and that SWAH’s stroke unit was earmarked for closure.

“I would really encourage you to respond to the consultation.

“You have an excellent service and that is absolutely why it is in two of the options for a hyper acute stroke unit and with all of the investment that would be required for that,” he said.

Dr. McBride added: “And I just want to assure you, that there is no dishonesty on my part or on the part of the department of health. This is a genuine consultation and all we want is the best outcome for the people of Northern Ireland.”

One of the arguments put forward by the Department of Health for the need to change is the fact that a stroke unit needs over 500 patients a year to maintain the highest of standards.

The Stroke unit at SWAH proves that grade A standards can be achieved without these numbers and Professor Kelly expanded on this point.

“It is reasonable to challenge it because there is very little evidence,” he said going on to point out that the evidence is based on changes made to large urban areas such as Manchester and London.

“There isn’t really a design for a model based on the type of rural region that we have here. The data says there is a trend towards better outcomes if you have bigger centres, it doesn’t prove you won’t get better outcomes under a different model.”

Professor Kelly also went on to compare SWAH with other hospitals in terms of the time it takes to be assessed by a stroke consultant after arriving at hospital.

“London, we are hours faster than London. Altnagelvin is about 14 hours, Craigavon about 14 hours, the Royal about four hours. How many hours for SWAH?” he asked the audience.

One hour came a reply from the floor.

“12 minutes” Professor Kelly replied, with the crowd showing their approval with thundering applause.

A second public meeting is to be held on July 17 with the consultation extended to August 2.