A large crowd gathered in Enniskillen last Sunday afternoon, November 12, as part of a campaign rally organised by the Save Our Acute Services (SOAS) health campaign group.

It began with prayers from Fr. Brian D'Arcy, The Grann, and Rev. Stephen McWhirter, Rossorry Parish Church.

The platform panel was chaired by Fr. Brian, who is a committee member from SOAS.

The rally heard from representatives drawn from across society, including from the agriculture, business and hospitality sectors, and from the sporting community.

Pauline Corrigan, a SOAS committee member, addressed the rally and provided a background insight on the 'temporary' suspension of emergency general surgery at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH).

She also provided an update on the work of the SOAS group.

Discussing a family fun day event which was organised by the group, Ms. Corrigan referenced an 88-page risk assessment that was undertaken for the event where the biggest risk of the day was face painting.

She alleged that SOAS have discovered through a Freedom of Information (FoI) request that the Western Health and Social Care Trust (Western Trust) did not complete a risk assessment before the suspension of emergency general surgery at the SWAH.

Ms. Corrigan said: "The SOAS committee submitted many FoI requests to many public bodies, including all of the health decision makers in Northern Ireland ... These have disclosed information which we do share and will continue to do so.

"One of these requests was to the Western Trust to obtain a copy of their assessment that should have been completed prior to their removal of our emergency general surgery and – guess what – there was no risk assessment undertaken,” she claimed, adding: “Face-painting – 88 pages; our lives, none".

The President of the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU), David Brown, was the next to speak.

During his speech he recognised the work of healthcare staff despite the pressure they face.

He said: "I want to recognise within our community those who work in our health workforce, those that are under that pressure and the strain of, at the end of the day, not being well staffed, not being well covered, and that applies to much more than just the consultants and the doctors.

“Those who care for us when we need them most deserve recognition for the strain and the pressure they have taken on all this."

Discussing commentary around the strategic reform of the health service, Mr. Brown said: "We need those politicians when they get back into Stormont to put that as a priority of those things which are at the forefront of our minds."

Michael Cadden, a local businessowner, and Vice-Chair of Hospitality Ulster, spoke on behalf of tourism and hospitality businesses.

He said: "We will not be out of sight and out of mind in the West.

"Purely from a tourism perspective, the importance of a functioning healthcare system and the provision of life-saving intervention cannot be ignored.

“We need to attract both employees and customers alike. Customers and potential employees will look at the availability of services in the area and make a conscious decision about travel.”

Simon O'Hare, Enniskillen Rugby Football Club, spoke on the impact of sporting communities in Fermanagh.

"Sport is so important to us all, to our children, to society, for keeping people in Fermanagh, because when having a tie and a buy into your sporting community down home, whatever the code might be, it is critical we have support for when things don't necessarily go according to plan."

He continued: "It [the removal of any acute services from the SWAH] beggars belief, as [it] would have such a massive impact not just on rugby, but all the sporting codes across Fermanagh.

Pat Blake, local businessman and Chair of Enniskillen BID, also addressed the rally. He said: "Without a fully functioning hospital in the county, and not just in the town of Enniskillen, we have been denied an inalienable right.

“From my specific perspective representing Enniskillen businesses, it is an absolute requirement to have our hospital in full flight and fulfilling the role for which it was intended."

Graeme Buchanan, Severfield, discussed how while Fermanagh is not a natural home for industry, businesses have taken advantage of the talent of local people.

"We are up for the challenge of growing that business, and keeping it going as we go forward, but what we are not up for is trying to do that in an environment where our basics are not here to support us, and aren't there when we need them.

“We put the challenge back to those who make the decisions. We want our services back. How are you going to make it happen?”

Helen O'Sullivan, SOAS committee member, also provided an update on the work of the committee and what their plans are, going forward.

The event concluded with a vintage car, tractor and lorry run through the centre of Enniskillen.