THE Department of Health’s decision to cut women’s health services in Lisnaskea by half has raised concerns with locals.

In The Oak Healthy Living Centre, based on Cross Street, Lisnaskea, Patricia Flanagan, health promotion co-ordinator, spoke of the importance of dedicated women’s health services in the local area.

Patricia Flanagan, Health Promotion Co-ordinator, The Oak Healthy Living Centre.

Patricia Flanagan, Health Promotion Co-ordinator, The Oak Healthy Living Centre.

“There is a combination of challenges for women in the area. Access to transport, particularly for rural women, is a massive challenge, getting to appointments. Obviously, if services are cut, it’ll lead to further isolation for those women,” she explained.

“What we are finding, is a lot of things have been centralised to Enniskillen or Derry so that produces further challenges for women, but in relation to women’s health, for us, we will try and work around preventative work, working with women from the cradle to the grave, so it’s everything from physical activity to mental health and wellbeing to nutrition.

‘Empower women’

“We try to cover the whole spectrum,” said Patricia, noting that at the Oak Healthy Living Centre, they aim to “empower women to have the information so that they can make informed choices” about their health.

On women’s health and menopause, Ms. Flanagan said: “I wouldn’t go as far to say there’s a taboo or stigma to [menopause]. I think the conversations about menopause are definitely opening up and getting better.

“People are very much wanting to find out what does help, and what does work.

“It needs to be the holistic side and the medical side, so that people can make those informed choices.”

To provide women with information on menopause and its different side effects, she explained that the Centre is planning to host an event on October 18 to mark World Menopause Day.

“We would find that a lot of ladies are coming in to us and saying that they are going through the menopause and because there’s such a plethora of side effects, they are wanting information, but it’s not one cap fits all. So that’s why we’re doing this information talk, so that they will get the information on how they can not only support themselves, but know the right thing for them,” said Ms. Flanagan.

On Lisnaskea main street, The Impartial Reporter stopped to talk about women’s healthcare provision in the locality with teenager Charlotte Cosgrove, who was helping to look after her baby niece Ayda Harman.

Closer to home

“I normally get sent to Enniskillen or Omagh if I need anything done,” said Ms. Cosgrove, commenting that she would prefer if she could attend a women’s health clinic closer to her Lisnaskea home.

Charlotte Cosgrove pictured with her niece Ayda Harman.

Charlotte Cosgrove pictured with her niece Ayda Harman.

As a young woman, Ms. Cosgrove explained that she is “confident” in talking about her healthcare needs, commenting that she doesn’t believe there is stigma around the topic of menstruation.

“I will talk to anybody about it,” she added, noting that when she has required help with women’s health related issues, she has more often received hospital support because “GPs are very hard to get a hold of”.

In Clarke’s Pharmacy in the centre of Lisnaskea, owner Julie Clarke commented that she had recently seen great progress in the provision of women’s health services,

but that the news of cuts to services

is concerning.

“I feel that within the last few years, there has been fantastic attention given to women’s health, and I can really see it in the overall perception and [people’s] confidence in talking about it.

“I would have been able to confidently signpost [customers and patients] to the GP, knowing that they would have access to really comprehensive care in their health, especially in women’s health, which had not gotten this care and this attention in so long,” said Ms. Clarke, adding: “So I would certainly be very concerned that it’s been cut by 50 per cent because there’s no doubt about it, the accessibility has been fairly satisfactory and the turnaround has been fairly quick in my eyes, in terms of talking to people, and then within a couple of weeks, they are back into the pharmacy with a prescription or having gotten advice of the GP.”

Julie Clarke, owner of Clarkes Pharmacy.

Julie Clarke, owner of Clarke's Pharmacy.

Ms. Clarke feels that if access to services for women, be it GP or other services, are being cut, there’s a “huge risk” of missing out on early intervention: “There’s massive evidence to show that early intervention brings great preventative and additive effects for the future.

“There’s no doubt about it in terms of symptom management, symptom control, flagging up worrying symptoms, but just to give better quality of life is the main thing.

“So I’d be really worried and really concerned,” she told this newspaper.

In the Cornerstone, Sharon Johnston, who works as a counsellor locally and in GP

surgeries in the Tyrone area, told this newspaper that from her own perspective, women’s health services are “so important”.

‘Happening mentally’

“What I see from my work is within women’s health, no matter what’s happening physically for somebody, it’s happening mentally as well. And if it’s happening mentally, it’s happening physically. It’s just a vicious circle, it just keeps going round and round,” she said, adding: “If you don’t attend to the needs, you’re creating a problem somewhere else.

“If you’re not looking after someone’s physical wellbeing, you can be assured that their mental wellbeing is just going to slide downhill.”

She explained that within the Lisnaskea area, there is a really high need for managing mental health. “I know that the GP surgeries are under a lot of pressure on providing counselling services, the NHS in general, [is] unable to provide mental health support.

“They’re just not able to get round to it all.

Sharon Johnston, counsellor, The Cornerstone.

Sharon Johnston, counsellor, The Cornerstone.

“It’s not the GP’s fault. It’s not the staff’s fault. It’s just the situation that we’re sitting with our government basically. It’s no individual’s fault. Everybody’s doing the best they can, but there’s only so much money to go around,” said Ms. Johnston.

She added: “This service is being cut in the health centre and it’s nobody’s fault.

“How does that gap get filled? It needs to be dealt with because if that service is getting cut, it’s just going to increase the impact on

mental health.”

When asked if she thinks the reduction of services puts more pressure on charitable services, Ms. Johnston said: “Of course [it does]. Only for the charitable services being in place, it would be a mess. The amount of slack that the charitable services pick up

is huge.”

“We are hoping to be able to provide a charitable counselling service for our area here and try to help pick up that slack from the GP surgery because they’re doing their best. We do see the impact. It’s like a domino effect. If one service gets cut, even by half, that’s a domino effect on everything else,” she told The Impartial Reporter.

Martina McDermott, chairperson, Erne East Community Health Committee.

Martina McDermott, chairperson, Erne East Community Health Committee.

Martina McDermott, chairperson of Erne East Community Health Committee, has experienced first-hand the importance of swift access to women’s health services. Speaking to this newspaper in Lisnaskea on Tuesday, she said: “I had breast cancer when I was 39 and it was here in Lisnaskea that I was seen, and very quickly by Dr. Porteous.

“I was referred within a couple of days to the Erne Hospital in Enniskillen and I had my mastectomy within a week. That’s unheard of now. There’s women waiting such a long time and by the time they are actually seen, where is the cancer?

“It’s things like that. I have complex needs now because of everything I’ve gone through because of chemotherapy. I need access to women’s health care, it’s extremely important,” she said.