The Director of Communications for the Department of Health (DoH) has penned a blog in which he claims reporting and debate are a “threat to the future of hospitals”.

The blog, which was published on the Department’s website as the final part in a series to mark the 75th birthday of the NHS, is entitled, ‘An actual threat to the future of hospitals’.

Mr. Gordon terms certain media reports and public debate as “self-fulfilling prophecies of doom”.

“These can stem from the best of intentions, but that doesn’t make them any less destructive,” writes Mr. Gordon before going on to claim changes to hospital services are announced and followed by “high-profile claims the change is part of a secret long-term plot to downgrade or even close the entire hospital”.

These “conspiracy claims”, according to Mr. Gordon, become central to media coverage and public debate about the hospital.

“The self-fulfilling conspiracy theory is in play – an exercise in slow corrosive destabilisation created by the people most anxious to avoid this outcome,” he writes.

The threat to services at South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) has been in the news ever since the possible removal of Emergency General Surgery was first reported.

Mr. Gordon wrote: “And the conspiracy claims can be impossible to kill off – no matter how many official denials are issued.”

On October 6, 2022 this newspaper reported, ‘SWAH emergency surgery to be axed, claims councillor’.

Former SDLP Councillor Paul Blake made the claim at a Fermanagh and Omagh District Council meeting in October, 2022.

The Department responded by saying no decisions had been taken while the Western Trust said at the time: “Emergency surgery has not been suspended at the South West Acute Hospital, Enniskillen.

“The Trust is currently experiencing workforce challenges.”

Then on November 17, 2022, it was reported in this newspaper: ‘Emergency surgery removed from SWAH’.

The service was removed on December 18 and it has not been reinstated.

Mr. Gordon said: “As was said by senior political leaders at the time of the Bengoa Report publication, our choice is between planned change in our health service or letting change unfold in a random, haphazard fashion.”Following the announcement for the removal of the service, Sinn Féin MLA, Colm Gildernew was quoted in November 24, 2022 edition of this newspaper that the removal of Emergency General Surgery was a “collapse of service, not transformation”.

Obstetric and gynaecological consultants warned of the dire consequences of any “disintegration” of services, saying “harm will come to patients and the reality of this needs to be made clear to the public”.

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests revealed the issues arising from the suspension of Emergency General Surgery were heard at meetings of the Northern Ireland Major Trauma Network’s Clinical Advisory Group (CAG).

Another FOI request showed the Western Trust knew of the risks of withdrawing the service (as reported in The Impartial Reporter, May 4, 2023).


The pressures on ambulances and the amount of money it took to transfer patients from SWAH to Altnagelvin were also reported.

In May of this year, Deputy Medical Director for the Western Trust, Professor Ronan O’Hare, described some health services, including GP services in Fermanagh, as “vulnerable”.

It is not the first time certain media reporting has been criticised by the Trust. Western Trust officials have spoken about it before and how it can impact on retaining and attracting staff.

Mr. Gordon goes on to write that while it is right to speak up for hospitals and to hold those in power to account, opposing change will not stop it and “lambasting” the reorganisation of services is “counter-productive”.

A public consultation was held about the suspension of the service with the Trust saying no viable alternatives were found to reinstate the service.

Save Our Acute Services (SOAS) has been at the forefront of the campaign fighting for the retention of services at the hospital.

SOAS Chairperson, Reggie Ferguson, has challenged the views of Mr. Gordon and said: “If the Department or Trust want to restore confidence in our hospital, restore urgent and emergency surgery.

“Our aim is to protect and augment services in SWAH and we took full part in the consultation and put forward a five-point plan which instigated 30,000 signatures.

“David Gordon should get out and about more,” said Mr. Ferguson who referred to a speech made by Lord Brookeborough in the House of Lords last week on the need to protect these services.

Referring to the House of Lords speech, Mr. Ferguson added: “He eloquently set out our views and the majority of views around here.”

On Friday, September 15, the House of Lords heard Lord Brookeborough voice his strong support for reinstating emergency general surgery at the SWAH during a debate on the Northern Ireland budget. He said: “We have South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen. This was a state-of-the-art new-build opened by the late Queen in 2012.

“It has hundreds of single rooms –no wards – clean air technology in the theatres, and everything else. It has served a population of 83,000 people.”

He said along with other reasons the Western Trust has suspended acute services due to the absence of a “democratic authority telling it to get on with the job”.

“I am aware that the decision is statistical and due to a problem with recruitment — that may be so.

“It is a medical requirement for most important hospital interventions, such as childbirth, accidents, disease and whatever else to have acute services somewhere in case things go wrong.

“Therefore, those somewhat straightforward interventions now have to go somewhere else, in case the patients need acute help.

“They have to go to Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry. That means that 83,000 people — if they need treatment, obviously not all at once — have to travel for 60 minutes or more.

“Of those, 68,000 will have to travel for 90 minutes or more, and 25,000 will have to travel for two hours.

“That is travel time, let alone the acquisition of an ambulance, which is a totally different subject,” said Lord Brookeborough.

He further said the removal of services from such a large number of people in Fermanagh and South Tyrone should be considered unacceptable behaviour on the part of an unaccountable body.

“But it does not have to be unaccountable if the Government make provision for interfering where things are quite clearly wrong.

“The health status of 83,000 people is being compromised in a manner that is incomparable anywhere else in the United Kingdom,” he added.

During his speech, Lord Brookeborough raised the questions of the Western Trust’s dismissal of the the ‘Golden Hour’ principle.

“The Western Health and Social Care Trust has said that things have changed and the Golden Hour is no longer the mantra.

“But what has not changed is the need; it is identical.

“The road accidents, childbirth issues and diseases are the same, so what has changed? All that has changed is its decision to not go by the Golden Hour.”


Lord Brookeborough also highlighted the Trust’s decision to count the responses by more than 30,000 people as one submission.

“There was a consultation and one of the documents was signed by 30,000 people — 30 per cent of the population.

“It was treated by the Trust as one entity. It did not like it at all, and virtually disregarded it.”

Lord Brookeborough concluded by asking: “Will the Government live up to what they should be responsible for: ensuring equal treatment and opportunities throughout our nation, regardless of whether the devolved system is in place and working?

“That says a great deal about levelling up in our nation, does it not?”

The speech comes after Lord Brookeborough also sent a submission to Westminster’s NI Select Committee, appealing to MPs to encourage the Department of Health to act on the current situation facing the SWAH despite there being no government in Northern Ireland.

In the submission, Lord Brookeborough said: “The whole community is united in appealing for help to encourage the Department of Health to act, regardless of whether we have an Executive in place or not.

“I would therefore ask that your Committee would look at this situation and provide as much help and influence as you can.”