THE end of emergency surgery from the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) has contributed to "huge pressure" on the nearest A&E department in Londonderry, local campaigners have warned. 

According to the latest statistics for the quarter to December, 2023, waiting times for patients at Altnagelvin Hospital were on average 21 hours and 22 minutes -  a full seven hours more than the Northern Ireland average.

And according to minutes from a meeting of the Western Trust, executives such as Mark Gillespie acknowledge that this is a direct result of reductions in surgical provision at the SWAH.

Health campaign group, Save Our Acute Services (SOAS), which is campaigning to see surgical provision restored at the local hospital, said the Altnagelvin A&E department is now facing "unbearable pressure". 

"The loss of emergency surgery at the SWAH has now resulted in all of its surgical patients going to Altnagelvin," said SOAS spokesperson, Donal O'Cofaigh.

"The result is now that the Altnagelvin Emergency Department is dealing with patients from across the Trust area, leading to unbearable pressures on staff, and the worst waiting times in Northern Ireland, with patients averaging 22 hours just to get seen.

"This is 50 per cent higher than the regional average. SOAS highlight that for every patient travelling from the south west region, there is - on average - two hours added to their journey.

"Patients categorised by triaging as in 'urgent' need of medical treatment need to get that treatment inside an hour.

"Those triaged as 'very urgent' must be seen to in half an hour, and those in immediate need require treatment in 10 minutes. 

"Just how are those being categorised as either urgent, very urgent or immediate at the SWAH, and identified as in need of surgery, going to fare?"

Mr. O'Cofaigh added that following the restoration of Stormont, action is needed at a ministerial level. 

"Action is needed at the highest levels to reverse things at the SWAH," he continued.

"We have no confidence in the Western Trust - action is needed at ministerial level - commencing with a commitment to see a restoration of this vital surgical service."

As a result, SOAS has also written to the Minister of Health, Robin Swann, calling for an "urgent meeting" on the SWAH. 

"At the same time, community activists continue to fan out and win support for the demand for bariatric surgery to be provided at the SWAH, as was first promised in 2019," continued Mr. O'Cofaigh.

"With the right political will, and a commitment to work to restore surgery, expanded bariatric provision at the SWAH could really underpin a positive bounce-back.

"Our community deserves equal healthcare and demands nothing less."