THE Western Health and Social Care Trust has refused to disclose how many applications were received for the consultant general surgeon posts, claiming this to be confidential, but have been unable to provide any legislative basis for this, to date.

After a period of speculation and councillors’ exchanges with the Western Trust, it was confirmed emergency general surgery was suspended at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) from December, 2022.

The principal reason given was a difficulty in recruiting the suitably qualified staff; however, as time went on, Trust management pointed to the Review of General Surgery published in June, 2022, which sets out the criteria for maintaining staff rotas.

The Western Trust’s Chief Executive, Neil Guckian, felt the requirement for surgeons to either be emergency or general, but not both, was impacting on the Western Trust’s ability to fill SWAH consultant posts, further jeopardising the return for full service.

He contended that before June, 2022, formal standards were not a requirement, but “from that moment on, it became government policy”.

Continuing, he further contended: “Until then, we operated with what clinicians felt was a safe service. The document is very specific on what a hospital must have to retain emergency surgery.”

However, it later transpired the Review is a guidance structure, and makes no legislative changes.

Figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request showed the Western Trust spent almost £25,000 advertising for four consultant general surgeon posts, first on October 26, 2022, then re-advertised on January 19, 2023.

It was noted the Western Trust has a contract with the British Medical Journal for the advertisement of medical and dental posts which includes a number of free-of-charge prints and unlimited online listings.

The monthly subscription costs £4,500.

The response containing the breakdown of recruitment advertising expenditure stressed the posts were advertised “Trust-wide and not specifically for SWAH”.

On the back of these figures, the Western Trust were asked to clarify how many applications were received, and of these, how many were shortlisted?

In addition, how many posts have been filled, and on what dates their contract commenced or is due to commence?

A spokesperson replied: “We cannot provide the number of applicants for the posts as this information is confidential.

“However, we can confirm that a number of applicants were shortlisted and interviews took place at the end of last week [March 9/10].

“The recruitment process is not yet complete, and we will provide an update in due course.”

On March 14, the Western Trust were asked under what legislation the number of applicants was confidential?

When there was no response, the enquiry was sent again on March 16, and an assurance was provided the answer would be sent as soon as it has been obtained.

Almost a week later, no response has been received.


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