Derry man who suffered life-changing injuries following a motorcycle accident has been forced to travel to Belfast for treatment which was previously available in the city.
Sean Friel was left paraplegic after a serious motorbike accident on May 11, 2016, which means he is now dependent on a wheelchair.
The 48-year-old remained in a coma for one month at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
Since the incident, in order to stop muscle spasms, he has received Intrathecal baclofen therapy (ITB).
ITB therapy uses a surgically implanted programmable pump and catheter that delivers medication which helps relieve severe spasticity caused by spinal cord injury or spinal cord disease.
The pump is a round metallic disc which had to be surgically implanted under the skin of his abdomen.
The medication comes in a liquid form which goes directly into the space where fluid flows around the spinal cord.
However, the doctor who operated the pump and administered the medication at Spruce House in Derry is now unavailable.
Therefore Mr Friel, as well as others in need of treatment, have now been informed that they must travel to Belfast for the treatment - which he requires every seven or eight weeks.
Being restricted to his wheelchair makes it an extremely uncomfortable journey and he also has to incur the additional cost of travel.
Mr Friel’s sister has supported him following the accident both in terms of care, and more recently taking time off work to transport him to Belfast for hospital appointments.
However, due to the nature of the condition, a missed appointment could be fatal for Mr Friel.
“That’s the main thing about it, that journey to Belfast, I’ve tried everything, asking for lifts, going up in cars, buses and the train,” he told the Derry News.
“I’m on medication and coming back is tiring, it’s brutal on me.
“I can’t sit in the wheelchair for that long because I usually get pressure sores and if that happens I have to stay in bed then.
“People living in the north west are being discriminated against.
“Everybody else who has a pump has to travel as well when it could be done in Spruce House.”
He added: “It could result in death, there are a million different things that could happen to prevent me getting up there, especially in the winter, the Glenshane Road could be closed or there could be an incident on the railway line.”
Mr Friel said he is due for another appointment at Musgrave Park Hospital tomorrow and says he is ‘dreading it’.
Mr Friel believes he and other patients should not be expected to make the journey as there is a device available in Derry and other doctors should be trained to use it.
Mental health care has also been non-existent since the accident, he explained.
“It was two and half years ago the accident and I haven’t been able to get any mental health care at all and this is a life-changing thing.
“I’ve been asking for two and a half years.”
It has been a trying time for Mr Friel who described motorcycles as ‘the love of my life’ and he has every intention of getting back on the road at some stage on his new trike.
Commenting, Eamonn McCann of People Before Profit, said the case of Mr Friel exemplifies a wider problem whereby people in Derry are being ‘discriminated’ against.
“Sean’s case shows how the NHS has been chronically underfunded and eroded by privatisation. It’s small wonder staff morale is low.”
“And it’s people like Sean who bear the brunt,” he added.
“The problem is made worse by the general neglect of Derry which has been going on for decades. Specialists are paid less here than in the Belfast area, and a lot less than across the water. Derry people, who pay the same taxes as anyone else, are left at the back of the queue.
“The NHS should be a far higher priority than some of the issues which are dominating politics here.”
He added: “This is not a matter of abstract ideas but of the practical needs of people like Sean.
“He’s suffering, not because there’s nothing can be done for him, but because the people running the system won’t do it.
“Why should Derry people have to travel to Belfast for desperately needed treatment? It doesn't happen much the other way round.
“We need a properly funded health service and an end to discrimination against Derry.”
A spokesperson for the Western Health and Social Care Trust (Western Trust) did not confirm how many people would be affected nor whether this service would be resumed at Spruce House at any stage.
She said it is a ‘very specialised service for a small number of people’ and that for reasons of confidentiality the Trust does not comment on individual patients.
“The Western Trust has in place a range of services for clients who require support as a result of any psychological trauma and will provide care and advice through multi-disciplinary teams based on individual assessed needs,” the spokesperson added.
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