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The deal’s off if Omagh hospital plan is resisted, warns McGimpsey

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister last night threatened to pull the plug on plans for a £190m hospital in Omagh if the local council does not support him.

The proposed new ‘enhanced local hospital’ would include a 24-7 urgent care and treatment centre, outpatient services, diagnostic services, day procedures, day case surgery, ambulatory care services, an acute in-patient mental health facility, renal services and a care centre to house community services such as physiotherapy and podiatry.

But the plans fall short of being the full acute hospital that Omagh District Council and local campaigners want.

In an unusual move, Michael McGimpsey issued a stark warning to Omagh that it is this ‘enhanced local hospital’ or nothing.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: “What I am saying is basically if they (Omagh council) don’t get on board then I can’t see how I can go forward on Omagh at this moment in time. And I am asking the people of Omagh: do these councillors, do these folk who are campaigning against this hospital really represent what the people of Omagh believe?

“I have this money here, I have said I want to build this hospital, I am committed to building this hospital. I am all set to move.

“I think it’s extraordinarily short sighted, bearing in mind the |competition with other major projects. If they push this the way they are going, frankly, they will make some people in other parts of Northern Ireland very happy.”

I am trying to spend £190m in Omagh and am being told by the council that they don’t want it as things stand. They want a full acute service in Omagh, which is not going to happen

The Ulster Unionist claims he has been forced to issue the ultimatum after council officials re-iterated their opposition stance during a meeting of the Southern Health and Social Services Trust recently. There was also a heated exchange on the issue in the Assembly earlier this week.

And he warned that time is running out. “I think really this has become urgent for me. I am always hoping that folks will see the light, but the last board meeting of the trust indicated we weren’t getting round any corners at all,” he said.

“It seems to me that the people of Northern Ireland are long-suffering. Our health service is underfunded compared with England, our capital build programme has suffered greatly in the past 30 years to the point where we have a number of hospitals in very poor condition and are very badly in need of investment,” he added.

Plans are under way to build a new £250m acute hospital in Enniskillen, which Mr McGimpsey insists will cater for people from Omagh. It is expected that this hospital will be open by 2010.

“Everybody wants everything. We follow a model called developing better services and it sets out how we are doing this,” he said.

“We have nine acute hospitals and the rule is that everybody will be within the golden hour by blue light ambulance from one of these acutes. So Omagh is within that one hour of Altnagelvin in Londonderry and of Enniskillen and of Craigavon. It’s within the golden hour of three major acute hospitals.

“I have a duty to all of Northern Ireland. I have a duty to look at the needs throughout the province.

“I have very precious resources and am trying to spend £190m in Omagh and am being told by the local council that they don’t want it as things stand. They want, effectively, a full acute service in Omagh which is not, under the plans, going to happen. It can’t happen. These decisions were made before I got near it.”

The Department of Health set up a liaison committee and the only elected representative to join was Dr Kieran Deeny – who ironically based his election campaign solely on the fight to keep acute services at Omagh Hospital.

Said Mr McGimpsey: “I have asked the council to support it. I have had meetings with MPs, MLAs, councillors, Omagh hospital campaign groups and various other folks at various other times.

“What I have been saying is they have to get behind this hospital and support it. And indicate on behalf of the local council that they want this hospital because its very hard for me to build a local hospital if it’s in the teeth of local opposition, because effectively if people don’t want it they will by-pass it and go to Altnagelvin or Enniskillen or Craigavon.

“My capital fund is about 50% of what I need and the hospital infrastructure in Northern Ireland is about 50-years-old and needs replaced and hasn’t had the investment. So there is enormous competition for re-development.”

Belfast Telegraph

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