The Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) are working hard in their drive to recruit general surgeons for the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH).

The Surgical Service for SWAH and the Omagh Hospital and Primary Care Complex (OHPCC) is led by six consultants however, at this moment there are four consultants in place.

A recruitment drive is underway and it is hoped that with retirements coming in the coming months that new surgical consultants will be in place to help ease the pressure on the on-call rota.

WHSCT Director of Acute Services, Geraldine McKay said that over the Trust has tried to cover the rota with 12 locum consultants employed since May 2017 while a fourth recruitment drive is being undertaken at the present time.

A regional summit was held last Tuesday, September 29 to discuss how to sustain the out of hours rota with a reduced number of consultants.

"The main pieces of work and discussions were around the need to put in a place a regional support for the on call rota until the end of March 2021 whilst we allow the recruitment drive to complete and confirm successful applicant into their posts," said Mrs. McKay.

"I should say there is no move away or intention to reduce the services at South West Acute at this time, that is absolutely not what we are talking about. It is about sustaining a rota of general surgery which has its own problems I suppose and we are not unique across the region in having a problem recruiting general surgeons.

"General surgery itself as a speciality has changed dramatically over the last number of years and there is more specialisation within the service of general surgery and therefore to find a good general surgeon is quite difficult."

Mrs. McKay said the summit received a lot of support from across the region and the next step was to put together a rota with "external support as well as internal support".

"During the period up to March 2021 the Trust will work with other Trusts and the Health and Social Care Board also to develop options thru Pathfinder as a vehicle to put South West Acute out there as an asset to the region to try and pull in some planned work and to make arrangements for other services that can be provided there. It’s a fantastic facility and we really want to promote South West Acute as a key leading facility within the region."

The Director of Acute Services said she did not see people having to travel to other hospitals to have procedures or procedures being cancelled and they are "trying very hard to maintain" the Out of Hours rota.

"We hope to maintain general surgical services ant South West Acute in terms of emergency work and urgent work and we hope to have also additional work in terms of planned work for the region there," added Mrs. McKay.

As well as the drive to attract surgical consultants to fill the vacant positions, the Trust is working to attract more medical professionals to Fermanagh in the longer term, working to promote the benefits of living in the area and working in SWAH.