THE catering unit at the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise is under threat and patients could soon be forced to subsist on nothing but frozen meals, if a proposed HSE cost-cutting exercise is passed to outsource catering from as far away as Mullingar.
While the HSE has yet to finalise its plans, it has this week been confirmed to the Leinster Express that the authority are considering reducing the catering service at the hospital and transporting food at the weekends from Mullingar.
In a statement from the HSE, it was said that: “Due to the retirement and non-replacement of the catering manager at the Midland Regional Hospital at Portlaoise a review of catering services has been underway.
The hospital are currently working through a number of proposals, one of which includes provision of food from the Central Processing Unit at Mullingar to the hospital at the weekends.
“In the current financial climate, the hospital must review all of its services to ensure efficiencies and cost effectiveness.
It should be noted that no decisions have yet been made.”
The proposal met with disgust at the recent meeting of Portlaoise Town Council, where mayor Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald expressed her major concerns about the possible closure of the kitchen and catering facilities which she described as “excellent”.
“The quality of food is excellent in Portlaoise, how would you have that quality with this?” she asked, adding that the staff would be halved at the hospital if the catering service were to close. She also pointed out that certain patients require special diets.
“How economically viable is cooking the food elsewhere, then freezing it and transporting it?” she wondered.
Cllr Willie Aird described it as an “appalling situation”.
“The HSE have a great history - anything done for cost-cutting always costs more,” he wryly observed. “We’re not talking about freezing pizzas here. I hope it’s only a rumour.”
“It would be a disaster for Portlaoise hospital,” said Cllr O’Brien.
“Hopefully it’s not true.”
Town clerk, Susan Rooney said she had contacted Ms Jacqueline McNulty, manager of the hospital, requesting an update on the proposal and the council are awaiting a response.