TheE closure of acute services at Tyrone County Hospital in Omagh may lead to patients paying with their lives, a GP warned today.
The comment was made following a candle-lit vigil last night to mark the official end of acute in-patient care at the hospital.
Thousands of people were involved in a long-running campaign to save the services.
In 2005 around 30,000 people protested at the proposed withdrawal of the A&E department and emergency surgery.
Heart attack or car accident victims will be taken to hospitals in Enniskillen or Londonderry.
Dr Josephine Deehan, a local GP and councillor, said she is very concerned for patients’ safety. “Acute services are those medical and surgical services that people need to access quickly in times of crisis when their lives are in danger,” she said. “Now in Omagh and district we have a situation where we will need to travel almost 30 miles across very poor roads in order to access those emergency services.”
Dr Deehan said there had been “no political will” to save the services at Tyrone County Hospital. “This magnificent service has been destroyed and brought to its knees. The ultimate irony is that these changes have been brought about under the auspices of developing better services,” she said.
“I think when history looks back at this decision it will be illustrated that it was a wrong decision and it really does represent a huge injustice to the people of Omagh and west Tyrone and unfortunately our people may pay with that with their lives.”
Dr Deehan said the campaign to save acute services at Omagh has been ongoing from 2001.
“As a councillor I have had assurances repeatedly from ministers of health that acute services would be maintained until the new hospitals were built.
“Those assurances have not been met.”
Nurses from the Omagh hospital are now being transferred to the Erne and Altnagelvin hospitals. And Dr Deehan said this has led to concerns about the treatment of staff.
“I think questions need to be answered about the treatment of staff in the future. Unacceptable practices are going on I fear,” she told the BBC.
Dr John McGuinness, a consultant anaesthetist in the hospital, said he had concerns about the way the decision had been introduced.
“The announcement was made... on January 22 so it took 38 days to effectively bring to an end 110 years of service to this community,” he said.
Independent MLA Dr Kieran Deeney said he also had concerns about patient safety. “The health minister talks about this ‘golden hour’ in that everyone should be within an hour’s distance of a major hospital but I would defy him to travel from Carrickmore within that hour — especially in busy traffic.”
The Western Trust has defended its decision, saying it has struggled to recruit staff.
Joe Lusby, deputy chief executive of the Western Health Trust, said: “The delivery of health and social care has changed dramatically for the benefit of patients over the last 10 to 15 years and the model of care that we are now proposing to provide will be much better than could be provided up to now. That's not taking away from the fact that the Tyrone County Hospital has provided outstanding services over the last number of years.”
The new acute hospital for the south west is due to open in Enniskillen in 2012.