Laois doctors urge action

Health Health professionals fight back against suspected downgrade of Portlaoise hospital

Laois doctors urge action

By Lynda Kiernan

The impact of a county without a hospital was laid bare to Laois councillors yesterday by local doctors, who are certain that a downgrade is on the cards.

“The Dublin Midland Hospital plan is to downgrade Portlaoise from a 3 to a 2. This would mean they would close the Intensive Care Unit, the Paediatric unit, the coronary care, and replace the A&E unit with a local injury unit and a medical assessment unit,” said Dr Sean Fleming, a cardiologist in Portlaoise hospital.

Dr Fleming and GP colleagues, Dr Michelle Byrne and Dr Gerry White gave a presentation at the October council meeting of Laois County Council to seek support.

There is no other case of a hospital like Portlaoise, the third busiest in the region, being downgraded without a grade 4 hospital nearby taking up the slack they said.

“There is no experience in the country of how this might work out. Here in Portlaoise, people will be moved to Tullamore, Naas or Kilikenny, which have the same problems,” he said.

“Be careful about this term 'small hospital'. Last year Portlaoise had 39,000 A&E presentations, compared to 32,000 in Tullamore, and 45, 000 in Tallaght with a much bigger population. Even if you think that rationalisation is a good idea, Portlaoise would not be the natural first choice,” Dr Fleming said.

Portlaoise is underfunded he explained.

“Tullamore gets €84 million a year, Naas gets €56m and Portlaoise gets €51.7m. The very busy A&E doesn't match the funding,” he said.

On average, 12 people were left overnight on A&E trolleys in Portlaoise this year.

“There is nowhere else for people to go. The wait time for an ambulance in the midlands is particularly bad, the target was met in only 6 to 10 percent of cases,” he said.

“HIQA says Portlaoise is underresourced, but if the demand is there, services shouldn't be withdrawn. The HIQA standard is to offer services 'defined by users needs and preferences',” he said.

He is one of 69 GPs and consultants from Laois who have drawn up their own plan, after repeated requests for details on an assessment of Portlaoise, written by Dublin Midlands Hospital Group,went unheard.

“As local doctors, we have been kept apart. There is a great degree of secrecy. It is perfectly reasonable that the community is involved. We know that what is being suggested is a bad idea. But with investment, and support from other hospitals, we can provide safe and effective care,” Dr Fleming said.

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