12/06/2002

Proposed acute hospital plan sparks row

Proposals to reform hospital services in Northern Ireland have met with a mixed response from local politicians.

Published by Health Minister Bairbre de Brún, the document contains a hotly contested proposal to locate a new acute hospital in Enniskillen, while closing the current acute facilities in Omagh.

Explaining the need for change, the Minister said: "A modern hospital system that will meet the needs of all our people, well into the future, will require a fundamental change in the way that services are delivered and administered."

The Minister added that the proposals were not about reducing services, but increasing efficiency and building "firm foundations for the future".

Reaction to the document was swift, with politicians lining up to welcome or condemn the suggested closure based on location rather than along traditional party lines. Indeed, representatives in Omagh have issued reactions fiercely at odds with those of their party colleagues in Enniskillen.

Pat Doherty, West Tyrone Sinn Fein MP urged Omagh residents to "come out fighting" and described the recommendation to locate the new acute hospital in Enniskillen as "completely wrong", while Joe Byrne, SDLP Assembly member for West Tyrone described the plan as a "Cromwellian healthcare policy for the people of Tyrone."

Mr Byrne pointed out that hospitals in both Sligo and Cavan ensured less need in Enniskillen for acute services, as ambulances no longer stopped at the border. He also expressed amazement that Ms de Brun's plan was based on a six-county rather than an all-Ireland approach.

Conversely, the SDLP's Tommy Gallagher, MLA for Fermanagh/South Tyrone and Deputy Chair of The Assembly's Health Committee welcomed the proposal, citing it as "very good news for the people of Fermanagh."

Michelle Gildernew, Sinn Fein MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone also welcomed the planned move, claiming it redressed a history of neglect in the region.

Minister de Brún's proposals are based heavily on the Hayes Report, issued last summer by a taskforce appointed to review Northern Ireland’s acute hospitals.

The report advised streamlining these services into nine main hospitals – thus downgrading seven of the province’s remaining smaller hospitals.

(GB)

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