A major review of health services across NI was announced by the Health Minister this week.
The Trust said a planned public consultation on general surgery will be guided by this review and it will therefore await its outcome ‘to ensure it is informed by new regional standards’.
A spokesperson for the Trust said: “Recruitment of general surgical consultants has been an ongoing challenge across NI and work has been progressing locally and regionally to develop more sustainable emergency and elective surgical services.
“As a contingency measure to address these staffing difficulties in the Southern Trust, all emergency general surgical patients needing inpatient assessment are currently being admitted to Craigavon Hospital.
“A local project team has been developing proposals for public consultation on a longer-term best practice model to improve both emergency and elective general surgery across the Southern area.”
When asked if this would lead to any reduction in services, a spokesperson said: “Elective general surgery will continue as usual at Craigavon, Daisy Hill and South Tyrone hospitals until any new proposed model is introduced.”
The Trust was also asked if recruitment of staff would be curbed while the regional strategy was considered. It said: “A refreshed recruitment strategy will be key to supporting any agreed new model and will be progressed alongside any new proposals. Whilst we cannot pre-empt the outcome of any consultation process, we have been working with the Royal College of Surgeons to explore the best approach to improve the response to any future advertisements and are planning to advertise on a Trust wide basis for Consultant General Surgeons in the coming weeks.”
A spokesperson said: “Regionally, all Trusts with the Royal College of Surgeons and the Department of Health have been working on a Regional Review of Emergency General Surgery. This work includes the development of new regional standards for emergency general surgery.
“Following recommendation from the Department of Health, Trust Board has agreed to wait to ensure that any local consultation on general surgery will be informed by the wider Northern Ireland review and new regional standards.”
Updating the June meeting of Trust Board, Director of Acute Services Melanie McClements said: “Whilst we were on target to launch our consultation at the end of June, we have now agreed with the Department of Health that it would be beneficial to wait until the new regional standards for emergency general surgery have been approved so that we can ensure that any new proposed model is consistent with very best practice.
“The regional standards when agreed, will be an important benchmark to consider when developing our own service model. Once published, we will review and consider them in line with our local plans before moving forward.
“Huge thanks to all of our staff, Trade Union Representatives, other Health and Social Care colleagues and Service User Reference Group for all of their efforts to date in working together to improve general surgery for the entire Southern Trust population.
“We thank the public for their ongoing support as we work through this process to ensure that all patients get the best possible service.”