‘SOS Daisy Hill Hospital’ committee member, Francis Gallagher addressed Southern HSC Trust board members at their January 25 meeting, urging them to “speak up” when dealing with the Department of Health.
Mr Gallagher had been given an opportunity to air his thoughts on how financial resources could be better managed in the field of healthcare delivery, and in doing so he also urged board members to be mindful of patients being affected by the current budget situation.
And while the hospital campaigner stressed he was simply offering his thoughts as a non-expert, his input was welcomed by board members.
He stated: “Before I came here today, I asked an entrepreneurial friend of mine in Newry, from your perspective what should I say here today? And he said to me: ‘Find out what the Trust’s problems are and offer them solutions.’
“I am not an economist. I’m not an accountant. I’m not medically trained. What I can do is maybe offer a few observations from a concerned humble citizen’s perspective.
“I’m sure a lot of you saw the Channel 4 programme recently and the coverage on the Emergency Department at Craigavon Hospital. What came out very strongly is that Craigavon Hospital can’t cope with what it has.”
Mr Gallagher felt that staff retention was an issue, and Daisy Hill Hospital was in a similar situation in that regard: “If we look back last year, at Daisy Hill Hospital, I think it was over a 12-month period, a very significant number of doctors just walked away.
“So all those positions have to be filled again. Another major problem is retention. Another problem for you, I imagine, is the Department of Health. Where are the decision makers in the Department of Health? What problems are they causing for you?
“Of course, a huge problem is Stormont itself. I’ve been told reliably that as far back as maybe 15 years ago, [they] were told: ‘You are not training enough doctors. If you don’t start investing on more doctors, you’re going to end up with a crisis.’
“And now the chickens have come home to roost. And who is accepting responsibility for the tragic situation that we’re in now?
“So Stormont is another huge problem. Let’s just be honest, Stormont is not fit for purpose. It needs to be radically reformed, for the simple reason that it’s based too much – in my view – on identity, rather than accountability.
“So it needs to be restructured again, along the lines of making it accountable to the citizens. And finally, I don’t really put money in as a problem. There has been a lot of discussion here about money and on budget this morning.
“We’ve just got a population of about two million people. That’s roughly the population figures of Manchester. Now I know that we are spread over a rural area. So obviously that’s very different.
“The subvention from London is £15bn in 2021. The Department of Health gets the lion’s share of that subvention. Now we can always look for more money, there’s always a need for more money, but should we not be looking at how to cut our cloth to suit our needs? And I don’t mean life-saving services.
“How can the Department of Health save money in areas where there is wastage? Think of the huge savings that could be made in areas of unnecessary bureaucracy that could be put into frontline services.
“So that’s why I didn’t really include money as a problem, because I think this whole situation of budgetary control could be handled a lot better.
“These proceedings this morning [are] all very official. Everyone gets to speak very eloquently, [it’s] very measured and everything. But what I find is missing in the whole thing is the human side of all of this. What about the human cost?
“I’ll give you an example. In Newry recently, there was someone who took very ill. An ambulance was called in a public venue in the town, and I think they were [kept] waiting for over two hours, so local people had to help that person, provide transport facilities.
“To me, that sums up the situation, the tragedy and the dysfunction over the past number of years that has led us to this this point, or that particular situation. So I would say, let’s look at solutions. There would need to be more equality and more decision-making. You need to have decision makers care as well.
“In your relationship with the Department of Health, don’t be afraid to speak up. Dissent is good.
“Finally, in terms of solution, you need to think more about your local hospitals. Craigavon can’t cope, so let’s look again about bringing more services back to Daisy Hill.
“It must put you under a lot of pressure, having to deal with all this. So, relieve that pressure.
“One of the best ways to relieve that pressure is to empower your staff more and to use your local hospitals more, like Daisy Hill, instead of having your bottlenecks, here at Craigavon. Distribute those services more across the district.”