Health Minister Harris postpones meeting with Laois GPs on Portlaoise hospital

Health Minister meeting TDs and Councillors in Portlaoise on hospital issue

Minister Simon Harris at the meeting in Portlaoise with local politicians.

The Minister for Health has postponed a crunch meeting with Laois GPs over the future of the Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise.

Minister Simon Harris was due to meet the GPs next week, March 29, to discuss with them what should happen with the hospital. However, they have now been told that he cannot now meet due to "scheduling issues and Dáil business".

The GPs had hoped that the meeting would play a key part in retaining services at the hospital which is under serious threat of downgrade by the HSE and its Dublin Midland's Hospital Group. The DMHG says it has the backing of the national clinical leads in removing A&E, ICU and other services from the hospital.

The Laois GPs have been to the fore in the fight to retain services but recently declined an offer of a meeting with the DMHG chief executive and author of the plan for Portlaoise, Dr Susan O'Reilly.

At the time the family doctors said they first wanted to see a plan for the hospital before discussing its future. Their co-operation is critical for any HSE plan since the health service wants to filter less-ill patients who need treatment through a Medical Assessment Unit. This unit was high on the agenda when Portlaoise hospital consultant met Dr O'Reilly.

The Minister had pledged to meet the doctors when he visited Portlaoise in January at the height of the trolley crisis. He gave the commitment to local councillors and TDs including Minster for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan.

The GPs were briefed recently by Fianna Fáil Health Spokesperson Billy Kelleher. Fianna Fáil has access to information under the Confidence and Supply arrangement with Fine Gael. The doctors learned that consultations between the HSE and Department of Health officials are complete on Portlaoise but that it was not clear if the Minister had the plan.

The HSE refused access to the plan for Portlaoise to Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley because they said to release it under Freedom of Information would not be in the best interest of patients.

The HSE cannot make a decision to downgrade Portlaoise because this is a policy decision and under law only the Minister for Health can make a decision. 

The GPs have been told that Minister Harris will now meet them on April 25.

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