State-of-the-art and well-funded hospital struggling to recruit and keep top medics
Problems in recruiting and retaining surgeons are “threatening” a hospital’s ability to deliver an emergency service, the Sunday Independent has learned.
The Western Trust has described the level of risk at the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen as “major” and has initiated a plan to try and address recruitment difficulties by the end of January.
The hospital, which opened in June 2012, is one of the most modern in Europe. However, despite the state-of-the-art facilities and the attraction of living in Fermanagh, regarded as one of the most beautiful counties in Ireland, it has struggled to attract the required standard of surgeons on a permanent basis.
The problem is particularly acute at the consultant and middle grade level of surgeons.
As a result, the Western Trust, which manages the hospital, has warned emergency surgical services are under threat.
The lack of surgeons is also having an impact on the number of planned surgeries that can be done.
A report prepared for the trust’s board about the South West Acute Hospital said the trust had provided funding for up to 6.5 consultant surgeons but only three are working at the hospital.
It stated there is also a need for more specialist doctors. The hospital has funding for eight but only five are in place, with two of the specialists working on a temporary (locum) basis.
More locum doctors from other areas within the trust are having to be used to “sustain the rota” at the hospital.
However, the report said there was a “reluctance” from other surgeons across Northern Ireland to provide local cover in Enniskillen because of the “generality of surgical cover required”.
Despite the difficulties, the trust said “ongoing efforts” are being made to recruit surgeons on a permanent basis.
“All opportunities are being exploited to cover gaps and recruit,” the report stated.
The trust said concerns about the lack of surgeons at South West Acute Hospital were first highlighted to the Department of Health in August 2020.
Further concerns were raised with the department in October this year.
The trust said the risk and issues contained in the report have been communicated to all those stakeholders involved in surgical services in the area covered by the South West Acute Hospital.
However, it also stressed that despite the current difficulties, “assurances” are in place in relation to “cancer pathways”.
A Western Trust spokesperson told the Sunday Independent that all health trusts across the UK are experiencing staff shortages, both medical and nursing, to “differing degrees”.
“The Western Trust has endeavoured to recruit and retain doctors through a number of solutions such as regional training schemes and international recruitment and continues to do so,” they said.
“The trust has also initiated a review of general surgical services across the entire trust geography.
“As part of this review, a programme board and work streams were established to explore long-term surgical workforce sustainability both locally and in partnership with the region.
“We would like to reassure the public that despite workforce challenges, we continue to maintain a high quality and safe standard of care throughout the trust.”