The Department of Health is examining 'in detail' the HSE plan for Portlaoise hospital, the Taoiseach has told the Dáil after being told that the hospital's problems are a symptom of an underfunded health service.
Sinn Féin TD Gerry Adams leader raised the issue with Enda Kenny on Tuesday in the Dáil. He asked the Taoiseach about the status of the plan for hospital in the wake of the HIQA progress report on the implementation of recommendations it had made following its investigation in 2014.
"That report which was published last year followed the shocking experiences of mothers who had lost babies in the hospital and been failed by the health service under the Taoiseach's watch and that of Fianna Fáil.
"A key finding of the report published last year was that the health service did not act in the interests of patients following the recommendations made in previous reports. There were recommendations which were not acted on last year and the review published yesterday makes exactly the same point," he said.
Dep Adams said Portlaoise's problems are the result of underfunding that affects other hospitals.
"Portlaoise hospital is a symptom of the problem of an underfunded and understaffed system which is failing despite all the efforts of committed and hard-working staff. In Limerick hospital, there is a shortage of 24 midwives; in Cork, 54 are needed and in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, there is a shortage of 118 midwives.
"These are the number of staff required to bring staffing levels up to basic international safety standards. We expect women to put themselves into this position. Will the Taoiseach clarify the status of the report on the future of services and to the development of a specific plan - I am not in this regard asking for a knee-jerk reaction because this plan has been two years in the making - to ensure that staffing levels across maternity services are brought up to basic standard?"
Mr Kenny said "the reason we have travelled so far in Portlaoise hospital is the courage of a number of women who were courageous enough to come forward with their personal stories about the traumatic effects of losing a baby. That is the reason the advances and improvements have been made in the first place".
He said the Minister for Health and the Department are "committed to securing and developing the role of Portlaoise hospital within the Dublin midlands hospital group".
He said progress made in patient safety measures in maternity services in Portlaoise hospital "demonstrates the commitment of the staff and leadership team at the hospital, as well as of the team at hospital group level".
He staffing has increase by 18% and funding was up by 15% between 2012 and 2016 and significant patient safety improvements are evident regarding complaints management, incident reporting and implementation of key national clinical effectiveness committee patient safety guidelines.
He said the Minister for Health Simon Harris welcomed the new HIQA report yesterday by HIQA which reviewed progress at the Midland Regional Hospital in implementing the recommendations made by HIQA in 2015.
"A serious improvement has been made, with more to follow".
Mr Kenny said the HIQA report has identified a number of immediate issues that need to be addressed.
"The Minister for Health has asked the HSE to address those issues as a priority and to ensure that the hospital is properly supported in its role by the other hospitals in the hospital group to provide a proper service, as one would expect for the patients in the midlands.
"It is important that in any changes at Portlaoise hospital patient safety and good quality outcomes come first. Reports on Portlaoise hospital over the years have pointed to the need for reconfiguration of some services to ensure that patients are treated in the best setting and by specialist staff that can safely meet their needs.
"The (Dublin Midlands Hospital) group has been working for some time on a draft plan for a new model of clinical service delivery at Portlaoise hospital, which takes account of the need of the hospital to develop services at Portlaoise in the context of developing the service provision model for the entire hospital group.
"The HSE has submitted the draft plan to the Department of Health and it will now be reviewed in detail by the Department. Any changes to services at Portlaoise hospital, once approved, will be undertaken in a planned and orderly manner and will take into account existing patient flows and demands in other hospitals and the need to develop particular services at Portlaoise hospital in the context of the Dublin midlands hospital group. That work is now received and is being examined in detail by the Department," he said.