THE lack of a social worker at Portlaoise hospital is “an absolute scandal” according to a high-profile priest.
As he prepares to leave Portlaoise parish for Abbeyleix, Fr Paddy Byrne says his most important legacy is his “small role” in helping to create awareness of the vital necessity to maintain A&E and other essential services at the hospital.
However, he says he is leaving the parish this week with “a heavy heart” because there is still no social worker at the busy hospital, unlike most other general hospitals around the country.
Speaking to the Laois Nationalist, he said: “It is an absolute scandal in 2019 that there is still no social work service at Portlaoise Hospital. As I leave the parish I am leaving with a heavy heart, because in a busy maternity and general hospital there is not even one social worker.”
Fr Paddy appealed: “It is up to the government and the HSE to provide a social work service at the hospital now, at a time when patients and their families are facing so many difficult issues. It is scandalous that there is no social worker there. As my legacy, I wish I could see that happen and I am making a final cry to have a social worker involved in Portlaoise hospital.”
Social work departments in other hospitals around the country provide a wide variety of services to patients and families. These include advocating on behalf of patients who need community services; supporting patients whose illness is complicated by social and emotional factors; giving practical and emotional support during a crisis and helping patients and their families to explore concerns about their hospital stay and after-care.
Fr Paddy says that, as chaplain to Portlaoise hospital, he to some extent filled a social worker’s role as best he could. But he stressed that the HSE must provide a full-time, adequately staffed and properly resourced social work department for vulnerable patients and their families.
After seven years as a busy curate in Portlaoise, Fr Paddy will leave the parish this week and plans to take a short break before taking up duty as parish priest to Abbeyleix, Raheen and Shanahoe on Monday 8 July.
Originally from Carlow town, he was deeply involved in a wide range of organisations and activities in Portlaoise, where he will be greatly missed. He said: “I have been overwhelmed by the support I have received from the people of Portlaoise and I have fantastic memories of my time here. But I won’t be far away and I’m delighted to remain in Laois, a place I have grown to love.”
His first appointment as parish priest is particularly poignant, as he will be replacing his close friend, the much-loved Fr John Cummins, who died in a devastating accident involving his car outside the Abbeyleix presbytery last January. He will also take over the duties of Fr Michael Kelly, who is retiring as parish priest of Raheen and Shanahoe.
Fr Paddy said: “It is a radical new departure, as Raheen and Abbeyleix had two parish priests up to now. It was a pragmatic decision, as there is a crisis situation in terms of the numbers of priests, so I will be extremely busy in looking after both parishes. But I am very determined to serve both communities with enthusiasm and energy.”
Announcing the new diocesan appointments last week, Bishop Denis Nulty said: “The unexpected death of Fr John Cummins has left a great void in our diocesan life and I fondly remember John, particularly on this day of appointments. I thank Mgr Caoimhín O’Neill and the priests in Portlaoise for assisting in Abbeyleix and Ballyroan in these past intervening months.”
Fr Paddy has a high profile locally and nationally, writing a weekly column for the Laois Nationalist and other media outlets. He is also prolific on social media with almost 16,000 followers on Twitter and published a best-selling book last year titled All will be well.
He says he is greatly looking forward to meeting his new parishioners and plans to get involved with many local groups, ranging from Abbeyleix Tidy Towns to Raheen drama group and Ballyroan AC, the top athletic club, where he can foster his new-found love of running. As part of his new role, he will be chaplain to Heywood Community School and four primary schools – Ballyroan NS, Scoil Mhuire NS, Shanahoe NS and Raheen NS.
Fr Paddy will be replaced as curate in Portlaoise by Fr Ciprian Matei, a Romanian priest, with effect from Monday 8 July.