The Ulster Farmers’ Union have written to the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety Edwin Poots and Chair of the Health, Social Services and Public Safety committee Maeve McLaughlin expressing concern about reduced hospital provision of A&E services in Northern Ireland and the impact it is having on rural communities.
Commenting on this important issue UFU Rural Affairs Chair Freda Magill said: “The reduction in A&E services does not meet the needs of rural communities but rather it increases health inequalities in rural areas. Farming is recognised as one of the most dangerous occupations and unfortunately farm accidents are all too common. Given that farming is an all-weather, 24/7 and 365 days a year profession, farm accidents will not be confined to working A&E hours. For example a farmer could be injured in difficult calving in the middle of the night but may have to travel a significant distance to receive A&E help which could result in the loss of life.
“Indeed, it is very ironic that if that cow involved in the difficult calving needed veterinary help it is likely that a vet could be on scene sooner than an ambulance. Therefore, it is imperative that farmers have nearby access to emergency treatment.
“In addition, we believe that the practice of limiting A&E provision flies in the face of the executives’ Rural White Paper Action Plan which the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety gave the commitment to. This commitment concentrates on taking forward the development and implementation of the range of health improvement and promotion strategies appropriate protocols/and or structures that will be developed to ensure the needs of rural communities are met.”
The UFU does acknowledge that there appears to be a shortage of A&E doctors province wide which seems to be a reason for reduced A&E services. The union believes that government needs to be proactive on this issue and put in place strategy/incentives to enhance availability of A&E doctors in order to restore/maintain a 24/7 service. If government fails to address this issue it is highly likely that at some point lives will be lost.
Freda concluded: “We have received calls from members seeking advice and letters of support in relation to this issue. UFU members can call into their local group office and pick up a template letter which they can use should they want the union’s backing on this matter.”