The temporary removal of emergency general surgery from South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) is ‘extremely concerning’ for Northern Irish farmers and rural communities, a union has said.

The Western Health and Social Care Trust has not announced when it expects emergency general surgery at the Co Fermanagh hospital to restart.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), which campaigns for essential services to be retained locally to support rural areas, said it was ‘extremely disappointed’ with the decision as it would ‘put lives at risk’.

Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the UK, according to the latest figures by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

In Northern Ireland, agriculture accounted for 6 of the 18 (33%) reported workplace fatalities in 2021/2022.

UFU president David Brown said the removal of emergency surgery at the SWAH in December was ‘concerning’ for rural communities.

“When working with unpredictable livestock and high-powered technology, it only takes a spilt second for a farm accident to occur and the outcome is often determined by how quickly one can receive medical care.

“Receiving care within the first hour, also known as the ‘golden hour’, is vital as this can significantly improve the outcome for the patient.

“However, this will not be possible for Fermanagh residents from 18 December, putting lives at risk.”

The temporary removal of emergency surgery at the SWAH will see patients travelling two hours or more on rural roads for emergency surgery, he said.

“Farmers and rural communities need access to emergency treatment nearby. Taking away this service will have detrimental consequences on our farming families,” said Mr Brown.

“It’s critical that government take action immediately to ensure this temporary removal is for as short a time as possible and must not become permanent.”

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