Concerns over the allocation of doctors for the district were raised by a number of councillors at Tuesday night’s meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council following correspondence from the Department of Health and the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency (NIMDTA.)

Cross Community Labour Alternative Councillor (CCLA) Councillor Donal O’Cofaigh commented that the allocation of doctors to the South West Acute Hospital is “of grave concern”.

Councillor O’Cofaigh said: “There are many concerns around the mechanisms under which NIMDTA are currently allocating doctors. They note in their correspondence that they act ‘openly and fairly’ in regard to the allocation of trainees but the reality is, as one consultant said in a public meeting in the last few years, we only received one doctor out of 120 in A&E under the allocation afforded by NIMDTA.”

Councillor O’Cofaigh also noted the letters from the Department of Heath’s Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly. He said: “The Permanent Secretary says that it is imperative that medical leaders from the Health and Social Care (HSC) work collectively and innovatively to raise further the qualities of the HSC’s vocation offer, not least in training locations west of the Bann.”

However, Councillor O’Cofaigh proposed that the Council write back to Mr. Pengelly asking for information on what the Department of Health are “actually doing” and also write to NIMDTA asking what they are doing to “rural proof” procedures.

In response to NIMDTA’s letter which stated that “there are more positions available to be filled than doctors and dentists who apply to training programmes,” SDLP Councillor Adam Gannon proposed that the Council writes to the Permanent Secretary asking him to increase the “number of medical and dental places at university” so that the shortage of medical and dental students could be addressed.

Sinn Fein Councillor Sheamus Greene highlighted the recent reception hosted by the Council for the new doctors who have recently arrived in the district.

He said: “On a positive note I’d like to congratulate the Chair on the reception for the new doctors.” He commented that “some are very enthusiastic about being accepted here”.

Ulster Unionist Councillor Victor Warrington echoed Councillor Greene’s comments stating that the new doctors were “very pleased” with the effort that the Council went to to make them feel welcome.

Regarding the issue of recruiting GPs in rural areas, Sinn Fein Councillor Barry McElduff said: “Listening to Kieran Downey the week he retired as Deputy Chief Executive and leader of the Pathfinder project in the Trust, something he said is something that we need to take note of.

“He talked about a heat map where the pressure was at, and rural councillors will know this.

“He talked about there being 15 GP practices in the rural Western Health Trust area, essentially this council area and he talked about there being 15 that could ultimately reduce to 11 to seven to five in the next ten years. What a warning shot from a health professional on conclusion of the Pathfinder project.”

He added: “I propose that we undertake some research or ask a relevant health care authority to work with us on how they have overcome this problem in other comparable societies.

“Rurality is the key because this is a big challenge facing our community.”

Sinn Fein Councillor Tommy Maguire suggested that in the future, instead of sending letters from the Council, issues raised should be brought to the Health and Social Care group meeting.

However Councillor O’Cofaigh objected to this suggestion, commenting that matters regarding health shouldn’t be discussed in private meetings but should be in an open meeting for the press so that responses will be “open and accountable to the public”.