Officials from the Western Trust faced tough questions from local councillors and campaigners on Thursday night after it announced it would be suspending emergency general surgery services from the South West Acute Hospital from 18 December.
The Trust says it has been unsuccessful in efforts to recruit consultant general surgeons to the hospital and has now said it would be unsafe to operate its emergency surgery services.
Trust chief executive Neil Guckian and his team appeared virtually at the special meeting at Enniskillen Town Hall, despite some councillors questioning why they were not able to attend in person.
READ MORE: Western Trust confirms suspension of emergency surgery at South West Acute Hospital
The meeting heard from retired SWAH consultant Professor Mahendra Varma, who said that the plan had been ‘hashed up’ by the Department of Health and the Western Trust.
Professor Varma said more people will die as a result of the changes if they are not treated in the critical ‘golden hour’, by having to be transferred to Altnagelvin or Craigavon.
Disputing this however, the Department of Health’s Professor Mark Taylor says it is necessary to look at ‘relevant, current evidence’.
“You talk about patients dying on transfer, all of the recent literature would disprove what you have just said in terms of general surgery,” Professor Taylor said.
Chair of the campaign group Save Our Acute Services, Reggie Ferguson, was scathing in his criticism of the Western Trust’s handling of the crisis, which led to protests outside the Townhall on Thursday.
The Western Trust maintains the decision to suspend the service was unplanned and temporary.
“We don’t trust the Trust,” Ferguson said. “There’s been a lot of preparation done by the Trust before tonight. They clearly have this in mind for some period of time.
“This was on the cards for a long time, I believe that is true.”
Trust officials repeated on a number of occasions that their continued efforts to recruit surgeons had been unsuccessful, and the temporary withdrawal of the service would lead to ‘better outcomes’ for patients.
Councillors appearing both in the council chamber and virtually repeatedly asked for assurances that any change to services would not lead to people in the local area being worse off as a result.
In a passionate plea, Cllr Donal O’Cofaigh said: “I want to assure those that are listening that we are going to fight for our NHS, for local access to services.
“The people of Fermanagh should not be the collateral damage to address the longstanding elective care waiting lists. We won’t accept this”.
Earlier in the meeting, Trust chief executive Neil Guckian launched a criticism of local councillors’ actions in recent weeks after vowing to launch a legal challenge to fight the issue.
Protests and public meetings are set to continue in the coming weeks ahead of the withdrawal of the service at the Co Fermanagh hospital.
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