With the deadline for the consultation on stroke services being extended just hours earlier, it was timely that Fermanagh and Omagh District (FODC) Councillors showed their full support to the stroke services at the South West Acute Hospital at Thursday’s Council meeting.

The motion gained full support with Department of Health (DofH) coming in for some criticism and warnings from councillors.

A number of councillors during the discussion spoke of people close to them who had suffered a stroke and were cared for at SWAH with praise being given to Dr. Kelly and his team in Ward Five.

The motion, brought forward by vice-chair Diana Armstrong (UUP), recognised the South West Acute Hospital as the best performing facility in the country and that the closure or downgrading of the SWAH unit would be a retrograde step for the health and well-being of local stroke patients.

Councillor Armstrong said there is major concern out in the community about the future of stroke services at the South West Acute Hospital.

“The Department is coldly trying to wrap the entire issue up on the point of patient safety and are deliberately pushing the myth that somehow the services currently available at the SWAH are sub-standard due to the smaller number of patients coming through its doors.

“So we need to be clear – there is no patient safety concerns about the SWAH stroke unit remaining. It will only become a major safety issue if it closes.

“The only thing that we know for certain from this consultation is that for many stroke patients right across Northern Ireland, travel times for treatment look set to increase greatly. How that balances up I’m just not sure, and in the case of Fermanagh and Omagh it would be a disaster and major threat if we were to lose ours.”

Councillor Armstrong urged as many people as possible to submit a response to the consultation by August 30.

Across the chamber, Councillors welcomed the extension to the consultation deadline and there was some criticism to the process undertaken by the DofH.

Councillor Armstrong’s UUP colleague Chris Smyth raised concerns about the make up of the consultation saying it contained what could be “generously described as leading questions”.

He felt the way the study was designed is biased and leads people to unwittingly respond in a way they don’t want to and that underhand of department to have done that.

Mary Garrity of the SDLP said the department was “playing with fire” as the whole issue had united people everywhere and hoped the department took heed of this.

Her party colleague, Adam Gannon, said it would be a “scandal” if the department did not listen to the thousands of people responding to the consultation.

Commenting on the process of the consultation, Councillor Josephine Deehan hoped that the outcome of the consultation had not already been decided.

“There has long been a suspicion that often these consultation questions, these decisions have already been taken before the outcome of consultation has been realised. I sincerely hope that that is not the case with Acute Stroke Service in South West Acute Hospital.”

DUP Councillor Deborah Armstrong spoke her personal experience of the stroke unit when her father took a stroke in June last year and was treated at SWAH.

“I couldn’t think of a more worthy motion to come before Council and I am glad that there is political consensus and cross party support on this indeed I have been very pleased to work alongside fellow Councillors here in the fight to retain the stroke unit.”

“We have praised the stroke unit so highly tonight and rightly so because they do so much good work day and daily and it is thanks to the doctors and the nurses, and in particular Dr. Kelly who have saved lives just like my dad’s.”

Councillor Armstrong proposed an addition to the motion to pay tribute to the doctors and staff on Ward Five who have ensured such a high standard in achieving the only grade A stroke unit in Northern Ireland.

Praise was always given to the Fermanagh Stroke Group and Unison who have led the campaign to save the stroke unit, while Sinn Féin’s Sheamus Greene said he hoped the people in power will be listening to the people speaking “openly and very forcibly” in support of the retention of services at SWAH.

The consultation period has been extended for a second time by the DofH until August 30.