Doubts over downgrade

PORTLAOISE’S status as a full acute hospital has been thrown into doubt less than a week after the Minster for Health, James Reilly committed to the future of the hospital.

PORTLAOISE’S status as a full acute hospital has been thrown into doubt less than a week after the Minster for Health, James Reilly committed to the future of the hospital.

While the junior doctor crisis turned out not to be what had been predicted - Portlaoise was short just two doctors - more details emerged about what the hospital’s status might be under a reconfigured hospital service.

Last week the county’s three TDs and one Sentator were told that Portlaoise should aim at being a so-called ‘Model 2’ hospital. Details of what this will entail are contained in the Report of the National Acute Medicine Programme. It says a Model 2 hospital will not have A&E, ICU and will concentrate on day surgery services. The A&E would be replaced by a medical assessment unit with the possibility of a minor injury unit.

However, the report’s co-author pledged that Portlaoise would emerge from the change as a much busier facility that would have more specialists and be better for patients. Dr Gary Courtney, who is also the co-lead in implementing its recommendations, told the Leinster Express that the report is “Government policy.”

However, the political reaction was swift. Brian Stanley TD said the changed status amounted to a downgrade. “At the meeting with the Minister and senior officials from the HSE last Monday, it was proposed that Portlaoise seek designation as a Model 2 Hospital. The Department officials were eager that Portlaoise would seek Model 2 status, however, this would mean a significant downgrading of the hospital with limited access to many vital services,” claimed the Sinn Fein TD.

“Given the strategic location of the hospital, the population increase and the increased volume of work, Portlaoise cannot be allowed to be designated as a Model 2 Hospital, but should be provided with sufficient resources through staffing and funding to provide the necessary services for upgrading to Model 3,” he said.

However, Deputy Charlie Flanagan insisted that no decision had been reached. “That matter has not been agreed under any circumstances. “Minister Reilly had left the room (when it was discussed). I don’t believe that Dr (Gary) Courtney was reflecting Government policy,” said Deputy Flanagan.

Senator John Whelan said he had not endorsed the plan. “I didn’t endorse any plan. What I said was a plan was put to us (by the Department and HSE) was the Model 2...Embrace it and you will prosper was the message. With it we would receive more staff, resources and consultants. “That was very persuasive. It was a carrot and stick approach. The stick was those who object, oppose and obstruct will end up with nothing such as Monaghan hospital,” said the Labour senator.

Last week the HSE said Portlaoise was one of four hospitals where safety concerns had not been addressed.

See pages 2,12,13