Outrage over moves to stop emergency surgery at South West Acute Hospital intensifies

Outrage over moves to stop emergency surgery at the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen has intensified.

People in rural parts of Fermanagh say they feel isolated and fearful, after it was confirmed that emergency general surgery at the hospital is to be temporarily suspended due to staff shortages.

The suspension will apply from December 18, following a further resignation within the general surgery team.

Local farmer David Brown says he is concerned that people living in rural communities will have to travel further if they require emergency general surgery.

"Accidents on farms - by their very nature - are entirely unpredictable.

"Sadly, even in my role as President [of the Ulster Farmers Union] I get to visit some farms where there have tragically been fatalities.

"A lot of accidents that take place don't hit the headlines but definitely need surgery, definitely need an emergency response and to be able to get that emergency response within that golden hour is something that is obviously highly important in agricultural communities."

Anger bubbled over on Thursday night when a protest against the move was staged outside Enniskillen Town Hall.

Health bosses insist their will be little impact on other services at the hospital.

"Northern Ireland is small, and we have all the facets at our disposal, but we have to move away from all centres doing all things for people, said NI Director of the Royal College of Surgeons Mark Taylor.

"My final message to the people of Co Fermanagh is that the Western Trust will have to and will do everything in their power to ensure safety for everyone."

The Western Health Trust previously spoke out about problems recruiting surgeons for the Co Fermanagh hospital.

It is understood patients requiring emergency general surgery from that date will be transferred to the closest major hospitals, such as Craigavon Area in Co Armagh or Altnagelvin in Londonderry.

The Department of Health said it is "satisfied that the Western Trust's decision to temporarily suspend the service has been taken on public safety grounds, due to a lack of consultant general surgeons".

"The mitigations put in place by the Trust will be closely monitored by the Department, including the transport arrangements for patients requiring treatment in other hospitals," it said in a statement.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.