Ulster Farmers’ Union Deputy President Barclay Bell has led a delegation of representatives from the UFU to meet with the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Jim Wells.
Issues on the agenda included the concerns of many UFU members about what the future holds for their local health service provision and the future of Transforming Your Care in light of the budgetary pressures faced by the Department.
Also in attendance were Rural Affairs Policy Committee Chair and vice-Chair Freda Magill and Sandra Hunter and Rural Affairs Policy Officer David McConaghy.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Bell said: “The very fact that we felt it was necessary to have this meeting with the Health Minister highlights just how alarmed our members have become about where things are going in terms of rural health cover.
“In particular, comments from healthcare professional bodies suggesting that Transforming Your Care has effectively been abandoned have become a concern for us. The recent plans to ‘temporarily’ close the Convalescence Unit and the Multiple Sclerosis Respite Unit at Dalriada Hospital and reduce the number of beds at Downe Hospital to name just two examples have seen rural communities come together to voice their discontent at a scale which was nothing short of astonishing. The concern is that if these services go temporarily, they’ll soon go permanently, and then what will be left?”
Rural Affairs Chair Freda Magill added: “It’s important that we are realistic about this and that the senior policy-makers understand what it is that we want. No-one in rural areas can seriously expect an ultra-modern, state-of-the-art hospital in every town, all the research shows that complex treatments are best carried out, with the best chance of survival for patients, in centres of excellence, or ‘hubs’.
“However, rural dwellers do not think it is fair that they should have to travel to urban areas for relatively straight-forward, simple procedures that they used to be able to get done locally. The specific needs of rural communities need to be fully considered in planning healthcare provision, and for that reason we hope that Minister Wells will ensure that any future decisions affecting rural communities will be required to be rural proofed.”
Mr Bell concluded: “We were very encouraged that Minister Wells was able to give us a commitment that rural healthcare provision remains a priority for him, and we fully understand that he is working with ever tightening budgetary pressures. Our Rural Affairs Committee has therefore tried to think of creative suggestions which would help see healthcare Units in rural areas remain viable and serve the rural community in a sustainable way.
“In addition, the UFU will continue to monitor the situation regarding rural healthcare to ensure that the voice of the rural community is heard. I hope that the Minister will take our concerns on board and factor them into the decision-making process.”