Northern Ireland

A5 risks increased by the loss of hospital services in south west, inquiry warned

The South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen.
The South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen.

PATIENTS being forced to make journeys to Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry is increasing risks on the existing A5, the Public Inquiry into the road upgrade has heard.

Loved ones are increasingly transporting ill patients to the Derry hospital by car as a result of emergency surgical services being suspended at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) in Enniskillen, with many making the journey by car due to a lack of ambulance availability.

The inquiry heard how an Omagh-based GP has warned of an increased risk of "human error" while travelling on the A5 to Derry with those needing medical attention.

A public consultation on the future of acute surgery at SWAH ended in April after the services were “temporarily” withdrawn in December as a result of recruitment issues.

The A5: Enough is Enough group, which is calling for the long-awaited dual carriageway upgrade to begin, told Tuesday's hearing how the risks from the road are being increased by loved ones undertaking stressful journeys.

In a statement by the group's chair Niall McKenna, he read out comments from an Omagh GP on why a "quick and safe" route to Derry was essential.

"With the loss of Acute Surgical Services in South West Acute Hospital, we GPs are now sending all surgical emergencies to Altnagelvin Hospital. Occasionally, when situations allow, patients will make this journey by ambulance," the GP's statement read.

"However, with ambulance availability and response times declining, we are increasingly seeing these journeys being undertaken by family members, or indeed the patients themselves. Quite often when we assess patients, they are not unwell enough to warrant hospital admission.

"As they are generally keen to avoid long waits in A&E, we will make a plan of action to ensure patients' recovery. This will often involve a plan to attend A&E should their condition deteriorate. I am sure you can imagine how stressful it is on a driver to have a sick individual in the car with them.

"Many people report dangerous driving with increased speed and chance-taking making their journey extremely perilous. A strong argument about the death toll on the A5 is that all accidents are caused by human error. The unpredictability of the journey on this road enhances human error at the best of times but if individuals have the added pressure of transporting sick patients to hospital in perceived life-threatening situations, this will significantly increase the amount of human error on this road.”

Meanwhile, Mr McKenna also expressed frustrations over topics including the impact on land owners in the inquiry being discussed alongside the threat to human life presented by the existing A5.

“I strongly stress that ‘road safety’ is not comparable to these other topics. Likewise, it should not merely be just another chapter in a subsequent report,” he said.

“The protection of life is an inalienable right for all of us. For us, this current A5 is an everyday threat to this right.”

He added: “We recognise that there are competing rights in play here. However, when rights compete and clash, the right to life ‘trumps’ all other rights – the right to life is paramount and must always prevail over other rights.”