Rural affairs update: A focus on Health

​At the most recent Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) rural affairs committee meeting, health was discussed in great detail.

The committee have recently responded to two health related consultations. Firstly, the Northern Trust consultation on the provision of maternity services at the Causeway Hospital. Since the consultation period closed the Trust has announced that all births will now take place at Antrim Area Hospital. The Trust have blamed falling birth rates, workforce challenges and the absence of a neonatal special care unit as the reasons for change. Both pre and post-natal care will continue to be delivered on the Causeway site which is positive, but the changes will mean a greater travelling distance for some within the local area to Antrim.

The temporary suspension of emergency general surgery at the South West Acute Hospital has received lots of media attention right across the province. The consultation on the future of the service closed earlier in the week, which UFU responded to. The Trust is yet to provide an update or any indication if or when the service will be reinstated. In the consultation document the Trust revealed that the next planned recruitment drive will be in August 2023, meaning the service will remain suspended until then and is dependent on successfully recruiting at least four consultants to meet minimum staffing rotas.

Spring is a busy and challenging time for farmers and the recent spell of wet weather has made things even more challenging as it looks like livestock will remain housed for a while longer. The challenges of a busy spring can cause farmers to prioritise lambing, calving, slurry etc and neglect their own health and wellbeing. Perhaps before the good weather (hopefully) appears and the silage season is upon us, it would be a good time to do a self-check on your own health.

UFU is encouraging farmers to check in on their wellbeingUFU is encouraging farmers to check in on their wellbeing
UFU is encouraging farmers to check in on their wellbeing

Changes to services provided at a local hospital and numerous GPs handing back their contracts, is a worry for local people that rely on the service. It’s well known that the NHS is under extreme pressure but there are other services available. Visiting your local pharmacy can be a good place to start if you are feeling under the weather or have minor health concerns. In addition, the Farm Family Health Checks van has another busy month of visits planned at local markets and community events during April, with dates advertised on the UFU members Facebook page. A visit to the van is a quick and convenient way of checking your current health status and staff can refer you onto your GP or other relevant services depending on your needs.

Equally as important as your physical health is your mental health. As much as a busy spring can affect a farmer’s physical health leading to aches and pains, disturbed sleep and challenging weather can affect one’s mental health. It’s normal to feel sad, angry or low sometimes, but if you’ve been feeling like this for a while, you need to do something about it. Rural Support provides a free confidential service for farmers and their families across Northern Ireland through its ‘support line’. If you need someone to talk to or are concerned about someone else, you can contact the support line on 08001381678. All calls are confidential, and the support line operates from 9am to 9pm, Monday to Friday.