Belfast Telegraph

U-turn over proposal to merge wards at hospital

By Victoria O'Hara

Campaigners have welcomed the scrapping of controversial plans to merge the palliative care and rehabilitation wards at a Co Tyrone hospital.

The Western Health and Social Care Trust revealed the proposals last week as part of cost-cutting plans across the health service in Northern Ireland.

It sparked outrage among campaigners and politicians who described the proposal as "insensitive". If they were introduced, patients terminally ill with cancer and those recovering would have been treated in the same ward. Thousands vowed via social media networks to lobby against the planned changes.

Last Friday the trust said plans were "paused" to allow further review of the situation.

Yesterday the director of primary care and older people's services, Alan Corry Finn, confirmed that a different approach would be taken when the hospital opens in 2016.

However, as an interim measure the number of palliative care beds will be reduced from 10 to six.

"As most people know, we are building a new hospital in Omagh and I can state quite clearly that when it opens in 2016 it will include 10 single rooms to care for patients with palliative care needs," he said.

"The merger proposal was developed to deliver savings this year because the current service is not fully funded by our commissioner and we were trying not to overspend against our budget.

"However, we have now agreed with senior clinical staff that we will keep the rehabilitation ward separate from the palliative care ward, while reducing the palliative care beds from 10 to six as an interim measure and to reflect current usage." Kerry Irvine from Co Tyrone, who was opposed to merging the two wards, said she was "delighted" by the announcement.

Her husband Noel, who died seven months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011, spent his final days being cared for in the ward.

"I'm delighted that the decision has been made to scrap the plans, I think this is an example of people power." she said.

Kerry, a mother-of-two, said although the number of beds will be fewer, she would rather have the two services separate.

"I know the number of beds have been reduced but that is, according to the trust, just until the new hospital opens.

"There must have been decisions made about the service by people who have never used it. I don't think they had consulted the staff involved and asked for their opinion as to how it would affect patients and their families.

"I think this situation should be taken on board by all trusts having to make cuts.

"Unfortunately, they might have to be made, but those who use the service or work on the front line should be listened to."

Background

Campaigners vowed to stop the plans proposed by the Western Health and Social Care Trust in the Tyrone County Hospital in Omagh.

It would have meant terminally ill patients being treated in the same ward as patients who were recovering. It sparked outrage with the proposals described as "insensitive". Last week the trust 'paused' the plans, and has now scrapped them.

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