A Department of Health (DoH)claim that 6,000 responses to last year’s Stroke Consultation came from Fermanagh and Tyrone has been branded “ridiculous” by a member of the Fermanagh Stroke Support Group.

Stephen McAloon has said that the support group can verify that they “hand delivered” 10,000 responses from Fermanagh and neighbouring towns and villages in Tyrone and that the total number of responses could be as high as 12,000.

The DoH has claimed that, in total, 19,000 responses were received, with 6,000 coming from counties Fermanagh and Tyrone. The DoH carried out a public consultation last year with four of the six options put forward in the consultation document seeing the end to all stroke services at South West Acute Hospital. In the event of any of these options being adopted patients would have to travel to either Craigavon or Altnagelvin in the event of a stroke.

The Impartial Reporter asked the DoH for a breakdown of the number of responses received from Fermanagh, but a spokesman said that: “Unfortunately we do not have a breakdown of numbers requested” but claimed that the figure for Tyrone and Fermanagh combined was 6,000.

Mr. McAloon, of the Fermanagh Stroke Support Group, completely refutes the DoH’s figures: “We can account for 10,000 that we hand delivered. We were told that there were 19,000 responses but we were never given a breakdown, but we can verify that we hand delivered 10,000.”

Mr McAloon went on to say that the total number of responses from this area would be around 12,000: “We also know that so many people came into our office and took forms away and said they would post it off themselves. Obviously, we cannot be sure that everyone did that, but I would imagine most would have, and on top of that you have the online responses that would have gone in as well.”

The Fermanagh Stroke Support Group ran a series of information events in Fermanagh and in bordering towns and villages in Tyrone and Mr. McAloon explains that there was an overwhelming response to keep the Stroke Unit at SWAH.

“We went to Omagh and got a great response. We went to Fintona, Dromore, Trillick and Fivemiletown as well. I would say that three quarters came from Fermanagh. To say 6,000 came from Fermanagh and Tyrone is ridiculous,” Mr. McAloon said.

Independent Labour Councillor for Enniskillen, and long-time health campaigner, Donal O’Cofaigh, has said that the discrepancies in figures is a worrying development:“This is very concerning to hear the significant underestimation of the number of responses received.

“A huge amount of effort was put in by the campaign groups to raise awareness and if the department think that they can simply reduce the number in order to discount our opinion then they are mistaken.”

The consultation held last year was the second time in three years that the public were asked for their opinion on the future of stroke services in Northern Ireland. A pre-consultation was held in 2017 and on that occasion, there was a large response from people in the area.

During last year’s stroke consultation, the DoH held two public meetings in Fermanagh with both meetings attracting a large crowd to air their support for the retention of stroke services at SWAH.

This newspaper asked the DoH a number of questions in relation to the consultation, which closed on August 31 last year, including when it was envisaged that the final report would be published.

A department spokesperson stated: “Over 19,000 responses were received to the Reshaping Stroke Care consultation. This includes responses submitted online. Approximately 6,000 responses were received from counties Fermanagh and Tyrone. The Department is in the process of finalising the consultation analysis with a view to the future publication of the consultation analysis report.”