Thursday, 14 September 2017

THE fight is intensifying to save Stroke Unit services at the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen. The news they may be under threat has been met with anger, upset and a determination that no cuts impact the locality now or at any stage into the future.
Hundreds of people from Tyrone and Fermanagh attended a public meeting in Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen, on Monday night where they heard opposition to the plans to reshaping of stroke services in the area. The organisers of the meeting said they wanted to make it clear that any attempt to downgrade or remove services would be opposed.
Local politicians also called for the Health And Social Care Board to rethink its strategy as it was "ill-thought and completely unacceptable."
The venue was filled to capacity for this meeting with 400 seats filled with approximately another 200 people standing around the walls. In fact the doors were closed to further people for health and safety reasons. Before the meeting began the police were called to direct traffic into the hotel, as cars were tailed back as far as the Model School in Enniskillen such was the interest in the meeting.
As the people arrived, they walked past a dignified protest by both Unite and Unison trade unions, showing their support for the retention of Stroke services at the SWAH.
The meeting was chaired by former BBC employee, Yvette Shapiro, and was opened by Professor James Kelly, a consultant at the Stroke Unit in the SWAH, who addressed the audience on the present facilities in the SWAH and was given a huge ovation.
The audience included dozens of Stroke survivors, their carers, others who had lost loved ones as the result of a stroke, but were there to support the wonderful work done by the unit in Enniskillen, the general public and politicians.
They said they feared that if the service is moved and people have to travel to Altnagelvin Hospital for treatment they will miss out on the critical "golden hour" - the first hour from the onset of stroke symptoms to the start of assessment and treatment.
Speaker after speaker reiterated the need to retain the Stroke unit in SWAH and indeed because it is the best performing unit in Northern Ireland on a par with the best in London, there were calls to upgrade it to a Hyper Acute Stroke unit, a consultant-led unit 24/7.
Among the dozens of speakers were three who spoke with real experience. A lady spoke on behalf of her husband (who was present but unable to speak) about the wonderful care and support he had received in the SWAH and only for that dedication he would not be with her that night.
Another lady revealed that her brother-in-law, Mr Mervyn Rowe, Clonelly, Kesh, who is well-known in Boys' Brigade circles being a former president of the West Ulster Battalion, had died the previous evening as a result of a stroke. She was there representing the family who could not be at the meeting but wanted to place on record the wonderful care not only her deceased brother-in-law had received over these past three weeks but also the kindness compassion and support shown to his family by the staff in the Stroke Unit.
Dean Kenneth Hall, of the Cathedral in Enniskillen, who is a stroke survivor and made an impassioned plea for DUP and SF to get themselves sorted out, get back to Stormont and start working on issues that matter to all the people such as the health crises.
West Tyrone DUP Assembly member, Tom Buchanan, added his concerns saying it was now time for the Health And Social Care Board (HSCB) to listen to the voice of the people and take their hands off the excellent and best performing Stroke Service, not only in Northern Ireland but throughout most of the rest of the United Kingdom.
"The Stroke Services being delivered at the SWAH under Professor James Kelly should be set as an example to how such a service should be delivered in other areas learning from their best practise methods.
"The excellent turnout at the public meeting is clear proof the people in Omagh and Fermanagh have had enough of cuts and removal of vital services from our area not because of under-performance as they were far outperforming many other areas, but because it appeared a threat to the larger hospitals.
"The HSCB must rethink their strategy and bring the patients to where the service is being delivered rather than moving that service to another area," he said.
"Representation from the Public Health Agency at the meeting kept repeating 'we are not closing stroke units and it's not about saving money but rather aiming to enhance the service across NI so everyone can benefit from an excellent service' - we all know from past experience this is not true.
He added: "The people of Fermanagh and Omagh have sent a very clear message to the PHA and the HSCB that the current Stroke Services in SWAH and in Altnagelvin must remain in situ. However, the question remains, will their voice be listened to by these so-called professionals?"
Following the meeting Ulster Unionist MLA, Rosemary Barton, slammed suggestions that the Stoke Unit may close, particularly given the rural areas that many who use the unit come from. Mrs Barton highlighted this as detrimental to the wellbeing of the people in Tyrone and Fermanagh and furthered the stripping of services offered at the South West Acute.
“This trend towards centralisation of services I believe pays more attention to the so-called benefits of centralisation, to the extent of ignoring the fact that delays in reaching hospitals can contribute to preventable deaths, because of factors including time, distance and the conditions of some of our road network.
"Little attention was given to the actual demographics of the population in an area or where they live. In Co. Fermanagh, for example, there is a growing older population than around the cities, and while recognising the fact that younger people also have strokes the majority of strokes are within the older population, some of whom in Fermanagh tend to live perhaps alone and/or in isolated areas where even mobile communication is a major problem.
"So in reality when reviewing the Stroke units, greater consideration must be given to what can affect distance and time and not forgetting A 20-mile journey along the MI is a much shorter time than a 20-mile journey from Rosslea or Garrison to Enniskillen. Remember every minute it takes for a journey 1.9 million brain cells die."
Mrs Barton called for the unit at SWAH to be developed to a Hyperacute Stroke Unit that would deliver specialist early inpatient care to every stroke patient.
"When we have one of the best performing Stroke Units in the UK then it is an obvious move that it should progress to the highest level service provider, therefore it should be developed into a Hyperacute Unit."
She added: "Any suggestion to close the Stroke Unit at the South West Acute Hospital, with no consideration given to the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, is ill-thought and completely unacceptable. Such a move would be detrimental both to the stroke patient's health, in a situation where time is precious, and also to the family of the patient where travelling is necessary. The health and wellbeing of my constituents must not be sacrificed in favour of continuous cost-stripping and decentralisation of life-saving services in the South-West."
Local SDLP councillor, John Coyle, said that "patient safety must be at the centre" of any new thinking.
“The stroke service we have in Enniskillen is equal best to the service provided in the Royal in Belfast. The sterling service provided by the doctors and nurses here to our community is invaluable.
“At the consultation we made clear that the rural community would face considerable challenges having to travel for a stroke service further away. People in the West cannot be forgotten.
“Any changes to stroke services across the North must put patient safety at the centre of any new thinking. I've made it very clear that we must protect patients from any delay in treatment in order avoid serious injury.
“There was real frustration and concern in the room at the political stalemate and in particular at the underfunding of our health service by the DUP and Sinn Fein. For our part, the SDLP is clear that we need a working Assembly to put patients first. We need to ensure there is a more strategic approach to transforming our health service. There can be no health service transformation without political leadership," he said.
A Public Health Agency representative said she attended the meeting to listen to the public. She said that no decisions had been taken.


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