Members of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council have questioned the legality around the shifting of rheumatology and other services from the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH).

Although the moves are said to be temporary, there is as yet no clarification on when they came into force or when services will resume in the SWAH.

Councillor Adam Gannon, SDLP, explained a patient made the discovery after enquiring why they had not had their regular appointment, which is when the Western Trust confirmed a consultant left last October.

Councillor Gannon said, however, as yet it hasn’t been established “when this temporary change was put in place”. He continued: “I believe they’ve [the Western Trust] changed a service without making any statement. They didn’t tell patients or the public. That’s disgraceful.

“You can have bad news but you have to deliver it. You can’t just hide it away.

“I feel this was deliberately hidden, given the context of what was happening,” he claimed.

Councillor Gannon was concerned if the Western Trust acted legally as: “There was no consultation and no announcement. How is it possible to change a public service, without so much as telling patients?

“The basics of the job are to inform the public. It’s frankly unbelievable, but I don’t know if I’m surprised.”

Referring to the Western Trust Chief Executive Neil Guckian’s previous call for a positive narrative, Councillor Gannon said: “I’m worried that decisions, mistakes and huge errors – and that’s putting it generously– will undermine the Western Trust brand so much that no new Trust Board will ever be able to repair the damage.”

He proposed asking the Western Trust when the temporary change began, why it wasn’t announced, why there was no consultation, and what date services will return to SWAH.

In addition, he proposed contacting the Department of Health “expressing grave concern on how this has been handled and if the [Western Trust] actions should be explored”.

He continued: “We should also write to all party leaders expressing the need for a Health Minister to sort out this unholy mess, because I don’t believe the [Western] Trust will.”

Seconding, Independent Councillor Emmet McAleer stated: “The implication is fairly obvious. It’s feeding into the narrative when [Mr. Guckian] talks of the Trust’s PR campaign. I don’t think what they are displaying is particularly positive.”

Councillor Diana Armstrong, Ulster Unionist, said: “This all contributes to the negative narrative Mr. Guckian is so afraid of.  It’s a drip, drip, drip of negative and frightening information.”

She enquired: “What role does the [Western Trust] Chair play, and is it time that we speak to him, because this Chamber has passed a vote of no confidence in the Chief Executive?”

The SDLP’s Councillor Paul Blake pointed to: “Another month and another item about the SWAH, and more of the shambles of what seems to be going on in the Western Trust. It’s really embarrassing on their part.

“More issues are arising, and my concern is, what is else is happening behind the scenes?

“I’d like clarity from Mr. Guckian of what services might be withdrawn, or that he is quietly moving away from the SWAH and not publishing,” claimed Councillor Blake.

He referred to a rheumatology patient being told the consultant wouldn’t travel from Altnagelvin Hospital, so the appointment would be moved to Omagh, and while “there’s no issue going to Omagh – if all doctors are on Trust-wide contracts, would they not be required to go to the SWAH?”

He added: “We need less spin and more facts, if the Trust want to prevent a negative narrative.”

Councillor Debbie Coyle, Sinn Fein, told members gynaecology appointments are also being moved from the SWAH to Omagh, and women from Fermanagh are having to travel to Craigavon Area Hospital for maternity services and to give birth.

Independent Councillor Josephine Deehan said: “Any removal of services, whether temporary or permanent, erodes the status of the hospital.

“We have a state-of-the-art hospital built to the highest standards, with some parts severely under-utilised, and operating theatres which aren’t commissioned. That’s unacceptable.”

Final speaker, Councillor Victor Warrington, Ulster Unionist, remarked: “There is concern of a lot happening behind the scenes by stealth that we’re not made aware of.

“The Trust have to be called out on situations like this.”


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