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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Change ahead as board considers future of general surgery across Northern Trust

Front entrances to Causeway Hospital in Coleraine, and Antrim Area Hospital

The chief executive of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust has said any proposed options for general surgery at Antrim and Causeway Hospitals will be subject to a full public consultation.

Speaking at a meeting of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust board on Thursday morning (25th January),

Jennifer Welsh offered an assurance to members that any potential change to the services would be presented to members for consideration.

She said a public consultation would involve engagement with all stakeholders including staff, service users and patients and the wider community.

The chief executive said that Trust senior staff had planned meetings with staff to open up discussions on the future of general surgery across the Trust, following the Department of Health’s Review of General Surgery, which was published in 2022, before it became public.

“That review has implications for all HSC Trusts in terms of how a general surgery service is provided across Northern Ireland. For example, there are new Departmental standards for emergency and elective general surgery which cannot be fully met in the current configuration,” she explained.

Mrs Welsh went on to say six events have taken place, both with teams directly affected including anaesthetic, ICU, theatre, ward and gastroenterology colleagues and more widely, with sessions available for participation by all staff.

“Attendance numbers have been good. There are further engagement sessions arranged over the next two weeks, again with teams directly affected including emergency department colleagues and sessions available to all staff,” she reported.

“Now that staff engagement had begun, a number of potential options will be drafted, which will be tested as to their viability and within which the Trust would consider mitigations to address concerns that staff have been expressing at the engagement events.  There would then be a further series of engagement events to share and discuss these options,” she added.

An update report on the Department of Health’s review of General Surgery was published in July 2023. It states: “The Review of General Surgery was published in June 2022, and it clearly states the need for change.

“As with other areas of care, the general surgery service in Northern Ireland has changed over time because of increasing surgical specialisation, new technology, capacity gaps within the current structure and rising demand both in unscheduled and scheduled practice.

“The overall aim of the review was to therefore develop a model for general surgery that is equipped to deliver an equitable, sustainable and high-quality service for patients.”

The Review of General Surgery update report says it also “recognises that some hospitals will not meet these standards as currently configured meaning a higher standard of care will be delivered by reconfiguration of service delivery”.

Meanwhile, campaign group SOS Causeway Hospital says it will remain on alert following possible removal of general surgery from Coleraine.

The campaigners say the Trust has offered to meet the group “in the near future” after the issue of general surgery was not shared at a recent meeting:

“SOS Causeway Hospital committee look forward to discussing this pressing issue and updating the community as soon as possible,” the group said.

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