SO many questions for Dr Susan O’Reilly and the HSE, but too few answers.
That was the feeling at the meeting organised by Portlaoise Hospital Action Committee in Portarlington last Thursday night, when up to 150 people attended to vent their anger at the proposed downgrading of the hospital.
Speaker after speaker were at a loss to understand how a decision could be made to curtail and close services at a hospital with an A&E intake of more than 40,000 people a year. They were also confounded with proposals to transfer such large volumes of people to other hospitals which are also experiencing severe overcrowding.
Action committee member Austin Stack chaired proceedings. He was accompanied by committee secretary John Hanniffy.
Mr Stack said that despite a statement from Dr Susan O’Reilly, CEO of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group (DMHG) and author of the report to curtail services at the hospital, “no meaningful consultation has ever taken place before the report was finalised.
“We absolutely reject this report. We are calling on the minister for heath not to sign off on the report and to absolutely reject it and put it in the shredder.”
Dr Seán Montague said that Laois has the fastest-growing population in the country and rather than looking at a four-year plan, the HSE should be take a long-term view and look into the needs of the next generation.
He said: “Portlaoise hospital needs to be upgraded instead of downgraded. The A&E unit is running at capacity and there’s no capacity in other hospitals.”
He said that if the A&E unit was closed it would have a severe impact on the psychiatric unit at the hospital, which he said, would lose its status as a training facility and would cause major problems with staff recruitments.
Deputy Seán Fleming said that 685,000 people in Co Laois are currently waiting for hospital procedures.
“How did they come up with a plan to downgrade a hospital with 650,000 people on waiting lists? Their plan would see the closure of the A&E, the maternity unit, the paediatric wards and the intensive care unit. What we will be left with is a glorified health centre. I’m calling for the report to be rejected in its entirety.
“The HSE sat on their hands for two years after they finished their report and let the hospital run down. The report to downgrade the A&E undermined the staff in Portlaoise and deterred others from applying for positions in it.
“There has been a total lack of consultation by the HSE with local clinicians, local public representatives or with the three TDs in Laois. She even refused to speak with a government minister (Charlie Flanagan) about her plan and that is not acceptable.”
Deputy Fleming said: “If ye lie down and keep quiet then the message will go out to the government that the people of Laois are easy targets. Simon Harris has said that he will speak to the TDs in Laois before any decision is taken on the hospital’s future. I fully believe that he will reject this plan.”
Stephen McEvoy wanted to know how much it would cost the HSE to downgrade the hospital and upgrade the other hospitals that the people would have to travel to.
Another man asked: “Why are they trying to close the A&E when it’s on one of the busiest roads in Ireland?”
Cllr Tom Mulhall said: “If the hospital is downgraded. It will never be upgraded.”
Mr Hanniffy said that a proposed budget of €120m had been mooted by the HSE to carry out the plan, €20m of which would be required to downgrade Portlaoise hospital, “with the remaining €100m to upgrade the other hospitals to take the overflow from Portlaoise.
“But the problem with this,” said Mr Hanniffy, “is the fundamental truth. Does anyone actually believe that if Portlaoise hospital is closed that the HSE will spend €100m upgrading other hospitals? We all saw what happened with garda stations and with post offices. They’re all gone. Once the hospital goes, they won’t replace it. We don’t trust them (HSE) and we don’t believe them. We cannot allow the hospital to go.”
Noel Brennan suggested: “When this plan arrives on the floor of Dáil Éireann we should all go up in our wagons on the N7 and protest outside and let them know how we feel.”
Mr Stack said: “I want the message to go out from here that Laois people is no longer taking this and is no longer lying down. We are galvanised and we are no longer going to be rolled over. If we lose this hospital, it will be no more than a glorified nursing home.”