A Fermanagh-based health campaign group have written to the Health Minister over concerns over the removal of emergency general surgery from South West Acute Hospital (SWAH).

The local health campaign group, known as Save Our Acute Services (SOAS), has expressed their concerns directly to the new Health Minister, Mike Nesbitt.

They have shared concerns about the rollout of a detailed review into the impact arising from the removal of emergency general surgery from SWAH in December 2022

Last week the group welcomed the broad terms of the reference of the review.

SOAS encouraged patients, families and staff to participate in the review announced last week by the health services regulator, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) and which has been commissioned by the Department of Health

Despite this, they are now voicing concern that the proposal put forward by the RQIA will not allow for "meaningful engagement."

The campaign highlighted five main areas of concern: issues about confidentiality and anonymity for staff members, absence of an appropriate mechanism to get patient views and experiences, doubts about the lack of independence on the expert panel, questions about the RQIA's independence from the Health Department, and an inadequate focus on the impact in Altnagelvin.

The SOAS team have had contact from SWAH staff who are concerned about their ability to 'safely and confidentially' provide information to the RQIA review team.

SOAS spokesperson Donal O'Cofaigh called on the Minister to intervene: "The RQIA investigation announced last week was an unprecedented development - the first time a review of this scale has been conducted by the health regulator.

"It offered real hope to our community that the devastating impact the loss of emergency general surgery at SWAH would be recognised and action taken."

He continued: "SOAS have been in an ongoing dialogue with RQIA for the last 14 months.

"We have raised these concerns with RQIA as well as with the Minister and hope that these concerns can be addressed at the earliest opportunity.

"It is vital that this opportunity is not lost because of an engagement process which fails to recognise the fears and anxieties of patients, families, and staff.

"There is no anonymous mechanism for submissions to be made, and staff who want to come forward in confidence need to be given an opportunity to do so outside their place of work."

He ended the appeal by urging swift action: "We call on the Minister to intervene quickly and re-establish confidence in this review."

The Department of Health confirmed they have received the correspondence from SOAS.