In late July, Fermanagh Save Our Services (FSOS) campaigners were contacted by concerned staff at the South-West Acute Hospital (SWAH) in Enniskillen, who informed them that the gynaecology & obstetrics clinic faced immediate downgrading or even closure. The immediate cause of the crisis was the inability of the Western Health Trust to recruit junior doctors to the hospital, although acute services at SWAH and elsewhere have been under a long-term threat since the unanimous adoption of the Donaldson Review and Bengoa Report by the Stormont parties.

The campaign publicised all known information on the threat on social media, alongside a call for the Health Trust to clarify the situation. When they finally responded to local journalists, it was a bare reaffirmation of their commitment to the retention of local services but acknowledging difficulties in recruitment. Despite the threat being branded as ‘scaremongering’ by local politicians only days before, the threat to services received front page placement in both local papers.

FSOS campaigners received twenty-four hour notice of an invitation to a briefing on the situation. This, too, was immediately made public by the campaign along with an encouragement for interested members of the public to attend. Within minutes, a phone call from the Trust CEO was received, in which private assurances were offered that the recruitment crisis had been staved off but that the Trust wanted both press and public to be excluded.

At the next day’s briefing, campaigners and staff were told that sufficient junior doctors had been recruited on temporary contracts to avoid all but a possible downgrading of services in the month of August. The Trust also issued a limited public statement, promising an inclusive co-production process for the development of local services at SWAH.

The latest threat appears to have been pushed back for now but in the course of events, FSOS established a research group to map all the clinics lost over past years from SWAH. The campaign to defend NHS services in Fermanagh continues.

By Donal O’Cofaigh