Omagh hospital under threat via PFI deal

9 Sep 99
Northern Ireland health officials have recommended that a new £75m hospital, most probably financed with private cash, should replace two hospitals that won plaudits for their care of victims of the province's conflict.

10 September 1999

The Western Health and Social Services Board has proposed closure of the Tyrone County Hospital in Omagh and the Erne Hospital in Enniskillen in favour of a new unit on a greenfield site.

Local opposition to the closures is strong – the Tyrone County initially dealt with the 300 injured in the Omagh bombing in August last year. The Erne took the victims of 1987's 'Poppy Day' bombing.

The Western board area runs from Derry in the north, through Tyrone and all of Fermanagh in the south. The board is backing the closures as part of a reorganisation of acute services, which would improve the Altnagelvin hospital in Londonderry and the new hospital between Omagh and Enniskillen.

But there are doubts about the viability of a Private Finance Initiative scheme. It will take seven to ten years for the hospital to be built, and local managers fear services will disintegrate in the interim without an injection of cash.

Privately, one senior manager indicated that financiers may not be interested in the project. A PFI scheme would be less attractive to investors if the hospitals' services were run down.

There is also concern over the siting of the new unit, which has yet to be decided. Health minister George Howarth will decide whether to implement the proposal.

The two threatened hospitals are part of the Sperrin Lakeland Trust, which wants a recurring cash injection of £300,000 a year over the next five years while the hospitals' future is being decided.

Trust chief executive Hugh Mills said: 'While consideration is being given to the new hospital, there must be no further delay in the trust's proposed programme of investment required to maintain acute hospital services.'


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