Fr D’Arcy says two of five operating theatres ‘have never been used’ since opening in 2012
Enniskillen priest Fr Brian D’Arcy hit out at what he called the systematic running down of services since the collapse of the Stormont government last year, with two of the five surgical theatres at the £700 million complex having never been used at a time when waiting lists for operations are growing across the country.
Emergency surgery was suspended at the hospital last December, with the Trust saying that was “unplanned” and partly down to a shortage of suitable consultants.
Fr D’Arcy said the current waiting lists at Altnagelvin show the Londonderry hospital will not be in a position to cope with extra demand should services in Enniskillen not be reinstated, adding that anyone living in Newtownbutler will need to travel over two and a half hours for treatment.
More than 83,000 patients in Fermanagh and parts of Tyrone are located further than one hour from their nearest emergency department. The Western Trust said the suspension was necessary to protect the public’s safety after staff recruitment issues.
A consultation remains open until April, and the Department of Health (DOH) insists that the SWAH is still a type 1 emergency department.
“It simply doesn’t make sense,” said Fr D’Arcy, who supported several hundred protesters at the latest rally outside Enniskillen Town Hall ahead of a special council meeting on Tuesday night.
“I’m a Fermanagh man and I know how hard we fought to bring the hospital to Enniskillen. It’s here because of the location and the ‘golden hour’ critical to life saving treatment to make sure all patients who may need the services are within reach.
“Again, Fermanagh is being dismissed. The people who live here deserve an equal service.
“There’s a fear that since we have been left without a Health Minister, decisions are being taken to the detriment of residents. We’ve been without an acute service since last year. The longer it remains that way, the harder it will be to bring them back.
“This is the future of the children who live here we are fighting for, but the casual dismantling of services is basically telling people you may as well drop your loved ones off at the morgue rather than try to get to hospital. Enniskillen has a wonderful facility, the best in Northern Ireland. The people who live here cannot be allowed to become victims of geography. Everyone has the right to good, basic medical care.”
Making the case for the hospital before a special meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, local solicitor and chair of the Save Our Acute Services group, Reggie Ferguson, said that it was clear things “have taken a turn for the worse” for the hospital that “was once a source of great pride and joy”.
The Western Trust and Department of Health said that updated ways of dealing with trauma mean patients in need of orthopaedic surgery are never sent to a hospital where this cannot be provided.
“There have been multiple studies carried out across the world which have failed to find any significant survival advantage for trauma patients with shorter pre-hospital rescue times,” the Trust said.
“Trauma care has changed beyond recognition in the past decade, initially across England, Scotland and Wales and more recently across Northern Ireland and the Republic. Patients are now preferentially taken to the most appropriate hospital first for trauma care.
“No patient with major trauma would be taken to a hospital which did not have orthopaedic surgeons on site.
“The Northern Ireland Trauma Network set up a trauma triage tool which helps paramedics take more patients to the RVH which is the trauma centre and bypasses multiple other hospitals.
“Effectively Antrim, Ulster and Craigavon Hospitals are bypassed in the majority of cases of significant trauma and the patient is taken to the RVH as the main trauma centre.
“Altnagelvin sees approximately one third of the numbers of patients with significant trauma that attend the RVH trauma centre.
“The RVH has also initiated a call and send model — this allows for a patient who fulfils major trauma criteria to be rapidly transferred from any ED to the RVH for ongoing management.”
The Western Trust said both it and the Department “are fully committed to the sustainability and the future of obstetric and gynaecology services, including all maternity services, at the South West Acute Hospital, Enniskillen”.
It added: “The health service as a whole continues to experience ongoing challenges and pressures which has been seen in all acute hospitals in Northern Ireland. As a smaller rural hospital, South West Acute Hospital has been and will continue to face workforce challenges.”