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Council’s Health Working Group will be ‘voice of community’

With the Council giving the green light to the establishment of Health Working Groups to discuss concerns about Health service issues across the Southern Trust area, Council Chairperson Roisin Mulgrew is urging all interested groups, community representatives, service users and providers to get in touch with the Council to express their interest for positions in the groups.

Since her election in June, the Council Chairperson has made clear that her priority campaign in the coming year would focus on bringing the community together to speak cohesively on their concerns regarding the future of Daisy Hill and wider Health service issues.  Speaking exclusively to The Examiner in the wake of the recent formation of the Daisy Hill Pathfinder Project and the imminent set-up of a Working Group for Health, Councillor Mulgrew says she is keen for all interested parties to get on board and make their voices heard, in particular those from rural areas, “where health service cuts have a massive impact.”

The decision to create a Working Group as opposed to a Health Committee has not been without  controversy – with SDLP Councillor Pete Byrne vociferous in his criticism of how the deviation from a committee to a working group was arrived at, after a motion for a Health Committee was unanimously passed in May this year.  Mr Byrne’s proposal at Monday’s meeting that all information relating to both options be discussed and brought back to the next full Strategy, Policy and Resources committee meeting for debate, was defeated however, giving the go ahead for the establishment of a Health Working Group.

Reiterating her support for a “non-politicised” group to discuss health issues, Council Chairperson Ms Mulgrew explained that the decision to opt for a Working Group was taken so that smaller parties and Independent Councillors would not be excluded and so that the issue of health being turned into a “political football” could be avoided.

“According to legislation, all council committees have to be representative of party strength, so because Sinn Fein and the SDLP are the strongest parties then the majority of a committee would be made up of their party representatives.  This would exclude smaller parties and Independent Councillors and could lead to the issue of Health becoming heavily politicised,” she said.

“Health is an issue that every single person is concerned about and it would be a very genuine concern of mine that it does not become politicised.”

The Council Chairperson claimed that discussions were held over the last three months at Party Representative meetings which led to an agreement that, instead of a committee being formed, that all local lobbying groups or any other group with a vested interest, be it a service user or a service provider would contact the council with their contact details in order to form a health working group. 

“We envision that 6 weeks prior to a meeting with the Trust there would be a small meeting with possibly the council Party Representatives and the Working Group where they can relay their concerns, questions or queries, and they will then form the basis of the agenda for the following Trust meeting.

Therefore it will be the service users and providers that have control of the agenda, and this will prevent the issues from being politicised – that was absolutely the objective,” Ms Mulgrew maintained.

The Chairperson also underlined her support for the Pathfinder Project, hosting and co-chairing the project’s forum meeting on Tuesday last which allowed community representatives to register their interest in being part of the Daisy Hill Hospital Pathfinder Group (DHHPG).

She revealed that she had orchestrated a number of meetings since her appointment as Chairperson to secure the involvement of both the Southern Trust and the South Eastern Trust with the Pathfinder group and had also ensured a commitment from the Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Ambulance Service in upcoming discussions with the Pathfinder group and community forum. 

The South armagh representative is all too aware of the important issue of ambulance cover in rural areas and feels that representation on the Pathfinder forum from people in rural areas is vital to making their concerns heard.

“It would be of vital importance for one of the four representatives who will work closely with Dr Telford on the Pathfinder Project to come from the rural community,” she said.

“The issues that affect rural areas are very different from a city.  That’s why we really wanted NIAS on board with us in the working group too,  because we know amubulance cover is such a major issue in rural areas.

“Ideally we will have representatives from each of the 4 electoral wards on the Pathfinder community forum, each with a good knowledge of health issues in their communities and the ability to commit to the 18 month/ 2 year project.

“Whilst the Pathfinder project will concentrate on the future of Daisy Hill’s Emergency Department, the Council’s Working Group will run parallel to this and will focus on the entire health system and any issues with services at local level,” added the Council Chairperson.

“The message we really want to get across is that these working groups are about the voice of the community being heard.  As a council, we have no control over Health budgets but we can lobby for an improved health service if we bring everybody on board to work as one strong collective voice.  This is to be a vehicle that the community, service users and providers have faith in. 

“The issues being faced by the Health service are very difficult and this will be a long term process, there are no quick fixes. Next year’s Chairperson will automatically take over as chair of the Health Working Group so it will be a continuous, rolling arrangement which is kept non-political.”

Commenting on the controversy surrounding the decision to implement a Working Group, Ms Mulgrew added,

“It is regretful that the setting up of a Working Group has prompted such negative publicity because we have agreed that this is the best way to find and to create a comprehensive grouping of people that will come on board to represent what’s happening within the community and throughout our whole health service.  A Health Committee would have had too much political representation whereas the Working Group allows the community and service users and providers to really take ownership of it and set the agendas for Board meetings in the future. As a council we can facilitate this and make sure if we are getting assurance or guarantees for people that those are honoured, that there will be a level of accountability.

“I hope the community will get behind this important initiative and that interested parties will come forward to become the voice of all our communities on the future of Health in our area.”