Plans to merge palliative care and rehabilitation wards 'put on hold'
CONTROVERSIAL plans to merge the palliative care and rehabilitation wards at an Omagh hospital have been suspended.
The 'temporary' cost-cutting proposal would have meant that terminally ill patients were mixed with those in recovery at Tyrone County hospital.
Relatives whose loved ones were nursed at the facility's palliative care unit have been highly critical of the decision.
Officials at the Western trust met with local politicians yesterday and confirmed the merger had been "put on hold".
The cuts are part of multi-million pound cash-saving plans across the north's health service which must be made over the next five months to enable health trusts to "break even" in their budgets.
Bed closures, axing of minor injuries units and the removal of the north's only respite unit for Multiple Sclerosis are among the drastic measures being implemented to address a Stormont funding gap.
Savings of £7m must be made by the Western Trust alone, with the majority of cuts affecting its temporary staff - totalling almost 1000 employees - and agency, bank and locum workers.
A total of 77 people on temporary contracts are to lose their jobs, the Trust confirmed yesterday.
Sinn Féin West Tyrone Assembly member Barry McElduff welcomed the reversal of the wards merger plan.
"The people of Omagh were very concerned about this proposal and I am glad that their voice has been heard and been listened to. I would now like the trust to go further and totally abandon the proposed merger, which I made clear is insensitive and inadequate.
"I am hopeful that the trust will continue to listen to the concerns of the local community and overturn this proposal.
"The palliative care unit at the Tyrone County Hospital has provided a great service to the community in Omagh. It is absolutely vital, particularly as there is no hospice in Omagh.
"Sinn Féin will continue to engage with the Western Trust to ensure this crucial facility remains at the Tyrone County Hospital."
A spokeswoman for the Western health trust accepted that its "quality of services" will be affected by their savings plans.
"All such impacts and associated risks will be carefully monitored and managed and action taken to protect patients and clients," she said.
"These savings are based on the principle of supporting priority patient and client care and the maintenance of essential services, and are being delivered through strict controls on staff recruitment, travel, training and education, and bringing budgets back into line with funded levels. "
* HOPEFUL: SF's Barry McElduff MLA
* COST-CUTTING PROPOSAL: Plans to merge the palliative care unit at Tyrone County Hospital have been suspended