Health chiefs this week moved to allay concerns over the removal of services from Derry’s Altnagelvin Hospital.
Paul Cavanagh, the Health and Social Care Board’s Commissioning Lead for the Western Area, told the ‘Journal’, a number of new developments - in particular the radiotherapy centre, cardiology services and the development of the Tower Block - will place the Derry hospital right at the cutting edge of service provision over the coming years.
His comments come after it was revealed in Stormont - in response to a question from SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood - that over the last five years paediatric orthopaedic surgery, surgery for some cancers and some cardiac services have stopped at Altnagelvin.
Minister Edwin Poots revealed Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) procedures, Radicle prostatectomy for prostate cancer, Upper Gastrointestinal (UGI) surgery for cancer and elective paediatric orthopaedic surgery have all been lost to Altnagelvin in recent years.
Mr Eastwood said it is vital service provision is maintained at Altnagelvin.
“The common perception and expectation has been that Altnagelvin Hospital was to be the major regional hospital of the North West, that it would provide centralised and specialised healthcare to the North West of Ireland.
“This response from the Health Minister seems to suggest a slightly different policy. The Minister and the Trust must give reassurance that this erosion of services will not be allowed continue.”
Mr Cavanagh said paediatric orthopaedic services were lost to Belfast because of difficulty recruiting a consultant in Derry.
“It is a service, that in a perfect world, we would have liked to maintain and still have the aspiration to bring it back. Try as they may the Trust could not get a replacement in that speciality.
“We have retained outpatient services but inpatients are going to Belfast. We will continue to look for someone.”
He said the AAA procedures and the prostate and UGI surgeries are extremely specialised and a decision was taken to regionalise those in Belfast.
“It’s where the expertise in these areas lies,” he said. “It is much safer for patients to go to where the expertise is and where patient outcomes are much better.”
Mr Cavanagh said that over the coming years a number of new developments at the hospital will reinforce its position as a cross border regional hub, providing services with a grounding in best practice.
He said:” Obviously the major development that everyone knows about is the radiotherapy centre and we are on course to open in 2016. The diggers are now on site and work is underway.
“But there are other developments ongoing at Altnagelvin that are very significant.
“We have decided as a Board to commission two primary Percutaneous coronary intervention services - one in Derry, the other in Belfast.
“This expansion is a reflection of how the cardiologists have developed the service at Altnagelvin and across the Western Health and Social Care Trust area.
“It shows where Altnagelvin is in terms of a Northern Ireland context.
“We are also looking at the development of the Tower Block, looking specifically at the north wing, looking at new inpatients beds, new single rooms for patients, that will be fit for key specialties. Over the next three or four years you will see this develop.”
Mr Cavanagh said those developments will be “very much in keeping with a 21st century service”.
He also indicated however that wider changes to care provision could see the number of people treated in hospital reduce.
“All of the services that are in place today will be there in 2020. But at the same time we may not need as many beds - if we can provide a lot of care in the person’s home then we will. Services will be focused on the patient, on the individual, not on the hospital,” he said.