Fermanagh and Omagh District Council was only alerted to the fact that the Chief Executive of the Western Health and Social Care Trust, Neil Guckian, is to establish a new ‘Strategic Development Group’ for the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) prior to the first meeting of the new mandate on Tuesday, June 6.

Members then heard the Western Trust Board had given Mr. Guckian the go-ahead for a discussion meeting to be held on June 8.

The group is to comprise senior representatives of leaders and staff in the Western Trust, the Department of Health, SWAH management and clinical leaders, GPs, key community stakeholders and providers in the area, and independent health experts.

The communication to the Council proposed to include senior Council representation by way of the Chair and Executive Officer.

The Strategic Development Group will be jointly chaired by Mr. Guckian and a Non-Executive Director of the Western Trust Board.

A first full meeting is planned for August, which is to be held in the SWAH.

The Council’s Chief Executive, Alison McCullagh, said the discussion meeting will consider proposed Terms of Reference, the purpose of membership and associated arrangements.

Councillor John Feely, Sinn Fein commented on the short notice – just two days before the discussion meeting – but added: “I wouldn’t see any harm to go along to see what they are talking about on a fact-finding mission, and report back.

“I suppose you’re better off to be in the tent to begin with, to find out what it is.”

He proposed the Chair, party colleague Councillor Thomas O’Reilly, should attend the meeting, which was seconded by Councillor Adam Gannon, SDLP, who said: “I echo the comments of being ‘in the tent’.

“We’ve been crying out for more representation in decision making within the Western Trust. We might as well give it a go.

“For what it’s worth, I think the Council as a body would love the chance to engage with such a group, be it a one-off special meeting of an item for the Regeneration and Community Committee agenda, or through our Health and Social Care Subcommittee – whichever is the most appropriate ... It would be really interesting to keep tabs on this.”

Alliance Councillor Eddie Roofe agreed, telling members he attended a meeting with the Western Trust alongside MLAs from the major political parties, where the initiative was suggested.

“So I’m happy to see this happen, although I’ll hold my breath in terms of what it will achieve.”

He added: “But I am glad to see there is a definite attempt to reach out to the south west area and hopefully we will actually see some progress in the development of co-operation between the Western Trust and the wider community.”

With agreement throughout the Chamber, the Chair agreed the Council would attend the meeting “to find out as much as we can and report back as to whether we will engage beyond that or not”.