The Chief Executive of Western Health and Social Care Trust, Neil Guckian, has been slammed over his response to specific enquiries around claims of hospital staff being threatened, and on what basis he levelled allegations against members of the Save Our Acute Services (SOAS) campaign group.

While providing a briefing on  emergency surgery at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) during a previous meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Mr. Guckian claimed to have evidence of senior clinicians being verbally abused in supermarkets.

Councillors swiftly condemned such behaviour as unacceptable, saying any such abuse would not be tolerated.

A few weeks later, Mr. Guckian blamed members of SOAS for organising a coffin protest outside a public consultation in Lisnaskea, which turned out to be inaccurate.

However, when approached, the Western Trust advised it would not be commenting.

With no further mention of this alleged activity since, councillors decided to seek clarity on both points.

Independent Councillor Emmet McAleer proposed asking Mr Guckian “what evidence he has of threats to SWAH staff, and the claims he personally alleged against SOAS”.

Seconding this, Councillor Paul Blake, SDLP, claimed: “The [Western] Trust seem to have taken every opportunity to rubbish and dismiss anyone who is critical of them.

“Clarity should be sought as to what threats were made, because we certainly condemn it.”

In response, Mr. Guckian expressed regret that anyone was displeased, but declined to provide evidence to support his allegations against SOAS members.

He also stressed: “There was highly-unacceptable behaviour displayed by some individuals at the public consultation events.

“This was very unhelpful, and very disappointing to myself and many of our staff.”

In relation to supplying evidence of threats against SWAH staff, Mr. Guckian deemed this “inappropriate and grossly unfair to any member of staff”.

He continued: “We provided a very clear message, and many councillors fully condemned any abuse towards staff.

“This was a very important message for the public to hear, and I fully appreciate the support from the Council.”

He claimed to be “surprised” that the matter was raised again.

Councillor Donal O’Cofaigh, CCLA, said Mr. Guckian’s correspondence “raises a lot of questions around his approach to this Council”.

Continuing, he claimed: “Clearly he [Mr. Guckian] feels he’s not answerable as he can raise allegations around threats but doesn’t have to provide any evidence, and suggests it’s actually offensive to request such a thing.

“People will draw their own conclusions on that.”

Independent Councillor Emmet McAleer recalled attending the public meeting in Gortin, where: “I don’t think anyone could be accused of displaying highly-unacceptable behaviour. I’m wondering when this actually occurred.”

He continued: “The excuse of not addressing the threats to staff as being ‘inappropriate and grossly unfair’ is an absolute cop-out.

“Nobody asked for names or identification. We asked for an example – even one – of where this actually occurred.

“Mr. Guckian stated it was very important for the public to hear [this Council’s condemnation of any such claimed abuse of SWAH staff], yet he’s surprised why this would be raised again.

“When anything is presented without evidence, it’s going to be investigated.

“I don’t accept his excuse. It’s been said more than once: ‘you can’t trust the Trust’. That’s the reality.”

Independent Councillor Eamon Keenan told members: “He [Mr. Guckian] paints a very bad picture of Fermanagh people … whilst accusing us of painting a bad picture of the SWAH.”

He continued: “People arent going to settle for what’s going on, nor are they going to be labelled as threatening. They’ve every right to protest.

“SOAS has organised a very strong, factual campaign. Mr. Guckian trying to vilify it just isn’t on.”

Final speaker, Councillor Bernice Swift, Independent, stressed: “Responsibility lies firmly where it is accountable. We do not want to see any abdication of responsibility, especially on the human right to health.”


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