Laois doctors say they have held a 'very productive' meeting with the Minister for Health on the future of Portlaoise hospital.
A delegation of Laois GPs and hospital consultants from the Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise, met with Minister Simon Harris on Tuesday evening at the Department of Health in Dublin. Laois TD and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, also attended and was praised afterwards by the doctors for his strong support at the meeting.
During the meeting, which lasted for well over an hour, the doctors set out in detail their case for the retention of services at the hospital. These proposals had been outlined in a plan drawn up by the consultants and GPs and presented to the Minister and HSE in 2016 as an alternative to downgrade of A&E and other services.
Among the items they focused on at the meeting with the Minister were the retention of A&E, maternity service improvements, critical care and anaesthetics.
A spokesperson for the delegation said the Minister listened carefully and reacted constructively to the points made. While he declined to make any promises on the future, he did not use the meeting to warn the doctors that downgrade was on the cards.
He reiterated that no decision had been reached on the HSE's plan as drawn up by the chief executive of the Dublin Midland's Hospital Group (DMHG), Dr Susan O'Reilly. It has been widely speculated that this plan includes extensive downgrade.
The meeting was the first formal consultation between the Laois doctors and Minister since a plan was prepared for the hospital by the DMHG.
The doctors said Minster Harris acknowledged the lack of consultation with them to date. He also appeared to question the long-term wisdom of removing significant services. It is understood that he expressed concern that the HSE's proposals appear not to have factored in past and future population growth in Portlaoise, Laois and the other counties served by Portlaoise hospital.
The doctors said Minister Harris believes more consideration must be given to this on any future role of the hospital.
He also said more emphasis should be placed on the presence of two large prisons in the town. He indicated that the impact on prison services and the possible future cost of prison transfers to hospitals further away from Portlaoise need to be further examined in consultation with the Irish Prison Service and Department of Justice.
Some surprise was expressed that the Coombe hospital was not given an opportunity to have more input into future planning, given that it is now running the maternity unit in Portlaoise.
The Minister said he wants to meet a delegation of Laois doctors again before he reaches a decision on the hospital's future direction.
He insisted that a plan is needed, as recommended by the Health Information and Quality Authority in their report on the hospital carried out in the wake of the controversy that engulfed the maternity unit in 2014.
The doctors said the Minister declined to discuss the contents of the plan submitted by the DMHG through the HSE. He gave no timeline on its publication nor did he say when he would make a decision on the hospital's future.
Minister Harris had committed to meet Laois GPs when he met Laois politicians last January after he visited Portlaoise hospital.
The delegation of doctors was made up of GPs: Drs Michelle Byrne, Simon Honan, Sean Montague, John Madden, and Gerry White (who were there on behalf of the Laois Faculty of the ICGP & MIDOC Members).
The hospital consultants at the meeting were: Drs John Connaughton, Sean Fleming and Paul Gallagher.