Northern Ireland

Trust downplays whistleblower concerns maternity unit at South West Acute Hospital could close

South West Acute Hospital, Enniskillen. Picture by John McVitty.
South West Acute Hospital, Enniskillen. Picture by John McVitty. South West Acute Hospital, Enniskillen. Picture by John McVitty.

THE Western Trust has denied claims from a whistleblower that the South West Acute Hospital’s maternity unit could become unviable within months.

A public consultation is currently underway following a controversial decision to suspend emergency general surgery at the hospital in Enniskillen because of difficulties in recruiting consultant surgeons.

Speaking to the Fermanagh Herald, a doctor at the hospital who has remained anonymous, said a number of obstetrics and gynaecology consultants have announced they will be leaving, with locums also reluctant to cover the rota.

This is said to be over concerns they will be left legally vulnerable without the safety net of general surgeons.

“Probably in three months there will be no maternity,” the doctor said.

“I’m sure over the next three months or so there will be obstetric cover, but come May or June I’m not that sure.”

The doctor explained that in some cases, there is a small risk during obs and gynae procedures of injuries to the bowel, bladder or blood vessels – which would require the assistance of general surgeons.

As obs and gynae surgeons are not trained to carry out such procedures, the doctor said they could be held legally liable if things went wrong.

When the issue was raised with Trust management clinicians, they claimed to have received a “you’ll be grand” response.

“The management doesn’t really have the clinical insight to see that gynaecology surgeons only deal with the specialised part of the surgery," they said.

“We only deal with the womb, the ovaries and fallopian tubes, but if there is a problem with the bowel we don’t have any training, nor any kind of legal standpoint to actually repair the bowel.

“If there is a complication following the repair of a bowel by a gynaecologist, you can actually lose your licence because you are doing things outside your remit.”

The doctor said other factors were discouraging consultants from working at the hospital.

This included the remote location, no temporary accommodation for prospective staff, a lack of childcare and a lack of financial incentives.

A Western Trust spokesperson said: “South West Acute Hospital is funded for six-whole time equivalent consultant obstetricians.

"Six consultants are currently on the rota and the rota remains stable.

"Preparations for recruitment are ongoing.”