A former Enniskillen Collegiate Grammar School student who has recently taken up a consultant role at the South West Acute Hospital has shared her thoughts on the “staffing crisis” across medical professions on a national and local level, and how she believes it could be remedied.

“Nationally there is a staffing crisis and the effects of this are felt in every unit in the UK. The South West Acute is no different,” commented Dr. Joanna Johnston, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist who witnessed first-hand some of the staffing issues in the department, which transpired in June 2018 and had an integral link to the launch of the Pathfinder for Fermanagh and West Tyrone project.

She continued: “Last year, the hospital hit the local headlines for just that reason but collectively we worked alongside the Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Association and other healthcare trusts across the province to enhance our staffing. We’ve come a long way and will continue to work diligently to provide the best service possible.”

When asked by The Impartial Reporter what she thinks could be done to remedy this staffing crisis and encourage more medical professionals to come to Fermanagh, Dr. Johnston said: “One suggestion to help combat the staff shortages has been quite obvious - train more doctors. This would mean less reliance on agency staff, more cost-efficiency, a more secure workforce and reallocation of funds to other services.”

She continued: “Queen’s University in Belfast has increased its intake year on year and a further medical school has been proposed for the Magee campus of the University of Ulster. In fact, I believe that the course is prepared and ready to start from September next year. All it needs is official approval of funding. With the proposed degree programme being geographically closer to Enniskillen this would create significant benefits for recruitment and retention of staff.”

Explaining that she never really thought about taking up a consultant post in Enniskillen until after she had finished her training since it was not a unit that she was aware that she could be placed in as a trainee, Dr. Johnston added: “After working for a month as a locum registrar my opinion changed considerably. In fact, I would say that of all the units that I have worked in throughout my training, the South West Acute Hospital afforded the smoothest transition. Everyone made me feel very welcome and I felt that I could make a difference.”

Highlighting qualities that she thinks may encourage other medical professionals to consider taking up a post in Fermanagh, Dr. Johnston shared: “From a personal perspective, the location of the unit is one of the biggest highlights. Fermanagh is beautiful (although I realise that I am a tad biased). It has wonderful waterways, mountains, forest parks and even when it is raining, it’s still a great place to be!”

She continued: “From a professional point of view, I feel that the South West Acute has a cohesive workforce. Certainly in O&G, there is a camaraderie between all disciplines for example midwives, nurses, administrative staff and doctors. In fact, there are good links to all other specialties within the hospital.”

Dr. Johnston is one of three former Enniskillen Collegiate Grammar School students who have recently taken up consultant positions in their home county.

Having attended university and travelled to various parts of the world, Dr. Lynn Cromie and Dr. Alison Little have also returned to the area to take up vital roles in the South West Acute Hospital.

Dr. Cromie, a consultant in Emergency Medicine said: “The South West Acute Hospital is one of the friendliest hospitals I have worked in. You begin to get to know most of the hospital staff which is a very endearing quality. The physical building is one of the best hospital sites and the fact the canteen overlooks a lake is incredible.”

Echoing Dr. Cromie’s remarks that the South West Acute Hospital is a “friendly” workplace, Dr. Little, who is also a consultant in Emergency Medicine, commented: “I thoroughly enjoy working here. I feel very lucky to work in such a friendly department where there is a real sense of teamwork.

“The staff work incredibly hard but always manage to keep smiling. Fermanagh has a lot more to offer than I remember from growing up here.

“There are so many beautiful walks and good climbing areas, all you need is a good waterproof jacket!”