BMA: 'Urgent reform' needed to address vacancies after emergency surgery suspended in Enniskillen

Inside South West Acute Hospital.
Emergency surgery will be temporarily suspended at the hospital next month

The British Medical Association is calling for urgent reform after it was announced that emergency surgery at the South West Acute Hospital will be temporarily suspended.

There had been speculation as to whether the Western Trust could continue the services in County Fermanagh due to staffing issues.

On Thursday the trust Director confirmed that the hospital had been unable to maintain the workforce to deliver the service safely.

"We have been attempting to recruit to this service now on a number of occasions," Geraldine McKay told UTV.

"Since 2014 we have had six rounds of recruitment in that time and we have been unable to maintain and sustain a feasible rota for our surgical consultants out of hours."

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

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

On Thursday the Department of Health said it was '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.

A spokesperson said: "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.

In response, the BMA said it is concerned about vacancy rates and said urgent reform is needed.

Tom Black, chair of BMA’s Northern Ireland Council, said: "This decision is the result of a failure to develop and implement an effective workforce strategy for the Northern Ireland health service over the last decade.

"This service is unable to continue because there are not a sufficient number of surgeons to maintain an effective and safe rota. 

"The care provided to patients in our health system relies on its healthcare workers who are having to work under tremendous pressures, as we have seen this week. 

"It is therefore imperative that they are at the very least provided with the adequate terms and conditions if we want them to stay and work here. 

"There also needs to be an urgent reform of unfair punitive pensions rules which is forcing many doctors to retire early, adding more pressure on a shrinking clinical workforce.

"The service for patients in the South West of the country is now under huge pressure in both primary and secondary care and this closure of acute surgical services in the area will put additional pressures on the ambulance service there, not to mention on Altnagelvin Hospital in the North West. 

"The continuing collapse of services that we are seeing play out in our hospitals and GP surgeries across Northern Ireland is due to repeated inadequate funding in the NHS over the last decade."

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