Rural health services under attack

While the attention of the media has been on the protracted collapse of Stormont and the aftermath of the general election, the ramifications of austerity continue unabated.
NHS protest in England

While the attention of the media has been on the protracted collapse of Stormont and the aftermath of the general election, the ramifications of austerity continue unabated.

The GP crisis in Fermanagh continues to get worse. Although the shortage in GPs being trained and retained in Northern Ireland is a problem across the board, nowhere is its impact felt as badly as Fermanagh.

More than three in four practices in Fermanagh are expected to close their doors over the next twelve months, with some already gone. The consequences in a rural area with poor public transport connections is already all too apparent. Phone systems for remaining GP practices are collapsing under the strain – one patient phoned the doctor’s helpline more than 150 times to get an appointment. Doctors are directing patients to A&E services as they cannot treat them on site.

Meanwhile, remaining hospital services are under threat. South Tyrone hospital in Dungannon – which lost its acute status in 2000 – is now losing ENT and children’s dental services. The unspoken plan appears to be a run-down followed by closure and sell-off in the future.

The threats to Southwest Acute Hospital in Enniskillen mount, with the publication of an NI-wide pre-consultation on stroke services proposing a sharp rationalisation in provision; an approach branded by a ‘cynical attempt to secure support’ for closures by Unite the Union.

The loss of stroke services would lead to lower patient numbers in A&E, threatening it, and by extension maternity services. The consequences for patients are potentially even worse, with many stroke victims facing a two-hour journey to Altnagelvin or Craigavon.

In the face of these cuts, the establishment politicians are silent. Only principled, cross-community campaigns built with local trade unions and workers will be able to reverse these attacks and defend our NHS services.

By Donal O’Cofaigh

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