Questions to the Chief Executive of the Western Trust from a local councillor have revealed that consultants from Altnagelvin help to cover gaps in the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) rota.

Cross-community Labour councillor and longstanding health campaigner Donal O’Cofaigh was highlighting the threat he believes exists to SWAH services, and has called on a grassroots campaign to defend it.

In response to Councillor O’Cofaigh’s questions about the provision of emergency surgery at the SWAH, Western Trust’s Chief Executive, Neil Guckian, said there were three full-time substantive consultants at the SWAH with Altnagelvin consultants covering gaps in the rota and they will do so going forward.

“The [Western Trust]] Chief Executive has provided figures confirming the shortfall in staffing cover at SWAH at the highest levels and the fact that consultants from Altnagelvin are now routinely covering gaps in staffing at the hospital,” said Councillor O’Cofaigh.

“Perhaps even more concerning, rather than address the staffing shortfall through redoubling recruitment efforts and reviewing the problems with consultant retention, it appears that the Trust wants to take the easy road out and is actively reviewing the provision of emergency surgery at SWAH.

“Indeed, the Chief Executive confirms that they are already considering how to manage the impact that this move will have on other acute services at the hospital.”

Councillor O’Cofaigh called into question the Trust’s commitment to the SWAH, pointing to the fact that over the past 10 years there have been five medical directors, but not one of them have been based in the Fermanagh hospital.

“While they state that the current medical director has an office in Enniskillen, it remains a fact that they are based out of Altnagelvin hospital, which means that they will naturally have a focus there instead of the SWAH.


“The only positive is the Trust’s commitment that the upcoming review of emergency surgery will not immediately propose an end to 24-hour emergency provision at the SWAH.

“What is more, the Trust has committed that any change has to be consulted upon and subject to equality and rural screening – this is likely to open up an opportunity for the people of Fermanagh to have their say and put their stamp on events.

“Under any reasonable interpretation of what equality or rural screening means, it would be indefensible to shut down emergency surgery at the SWAH.

“That said, we can’t rely upon those in authority to act reasonably when it comes to cutting services here,” added Councillor O’Cofaigh.

Claiming other political parties are silent on the issue of emergency surgery at the hospital, Councillor O’Cofaigh said the fight to save the service was a “fight against the establishment-backed Bengoa ‘reform’ model”.

‘Almost impossible’

He continued: “If we allow emergency surgery to be taken away from us, it will be almost impossible to bring it back, and it will be unavoidable that our hospital will then rapidly have services removed or downgraded as they will no longer be sustainable or safe.

“The SWAH was designed to be a world-class hospital – the private finance model under which it was built cost the public purse almost three-quarters of a billion pounds.

“Either it is managed with ambition to provide a wide range of leading services, attracting staff to the genuine opportunities that arise from a cross-Border, world-class facility, or it will become a very expensive and glorified local health centre, offering publicly-subvented wards to consultants for private-for-profit medicine.

“That latter outcome would leave the community without access to emergency or acute services when we need them – that is not something we can countenance.

“There is a clear and present danger to the acute status of the SWAH. We must now commence doing the groundwork to relaunch a cross-community campaign to defend our vital NHS services.

“This will not be easy, but it is a fight to defend the future of Fermanagh as a vibrant community.

“As one nurse told me recently, who is going to want to move here to raise children if they can’t be guaranteed access to locally-accessible neonatal or maternity services?

“Health provision is vital to our community. It is not a fight we can afford to lose.”