Comment: Not a 'fait accompli' but fate still unknown unkown

Comment: Not a 'fait accompli' but fate still unknown unkown

If tradition pertains to the post Christmas, first week of January period, then it is surely characterised by what took place last week with the deluge of people waiting on trolleys in hospital A & Es throughout the country.

This Groundhog Day type scenario saw many hospitals snarled up and buckling under the weight of demand on their already stretched services.

Portlaoise had the second highest number of people on trolleys one day last week, with 45 people on the day that the national figure hit its highest ever.

By that evening, this figure had been minimised to single digits, testament to the work of the staff on the ground.

The bottom line is that hospitals were under intense pressure last week, and this was entirely predictable.

This January crisis is almost seasonal, such is its cyclical nature.

That fact should be an advantage when it comes to contingency planning and gearing a system to cope with the large influx that occurs at this time every year.

No so, though.

For once again the system has found itself caught in the proverbial headlights, scrambling to get through.

And the response invariably follows an all too predictable pattern.

Short term measures are put in place, the crisis eases and falls out of the headlines, and we hurl inexorably to next January.

The kernel of the problem is in the inability of the health and political system to make the necessary deep rooted changes to alleviate these type of situations .

The system finds itself beset by competing power centres, all anxious to protect their own patches, and wary, if not downright averse to, any kind of reorganisation.

Throwing money at the problem is one of the most accessible solutions, at least to the general public.

However, if it is not accompanied by the necessary infrastructural changes, then it amounts to only moving the problem onto the next level.

The Minister for Health, Simon Harris was in Portlaoise on Monday morning where he acknowleged that there was no spare capacity in the system, should an A & E, such as Portlaoise, close.

In a meeting with TDs and Councillors he stated that no decision has been taken on the future of Portlaoise, and that the closure of the A & E was not a “fait accompli.”

The lack of spare capacity in the hospital system is manifestly apparent, given the events of last week.

Where would the 45 patients of any given day go, if the option of Portlaoise was not there. Tullamore found itself under severe strain last week.

Contemplating the impact of the closure of Portlaoise's A & E is a step too far, for anyone relying on its service.

Portlaoise hospital been under the cloud uncertainty for quite some time now.

Last year's Hiqa report also signalled gloom and doom.

Minister Harris was as reassuring as he could be on Monday, and what he said certainly sounded good.

He noted the progress and good work done at the hospital.

Nevertheless the fact remain that the substantive issues remain for Portlaoise and elsewhere.

No one can be confident at the end of this Ministerital visit that the future of Portlaoise is secure for the medium to long term. What happens next in this process remains to be seen, but no one can be complacent.