Thousands marching to save Abbeyleix community nursing unit in 2012. Pic Alf Harvey
The Department of Health has declared that Abbeyleix hospital in Laois has a “long term future” , but the action committee who campaigned to save it seven years ago say this is an “empty promise”.
In 2011 the HSE announced the closure of Abbeyleix and Shaen community nursing units in Laois, to local shock.
The hospitals give residential care to mostly elderly people. The announcement resulted in a massive public march in Abbeyleix and court cases taken by some patients. However since that time longterm beds continued to close in Abbeyleix.
In January, Cllr Caroline Dwane was backed in her motion to write and demand a plan for Abbeyleix from the HSE and the Dept of Health.
A letter of reply was welcomed by councillors at Monday's monthly council meeting.
The Dept of Health say that a meeting took place on January 18 between the HSE and the Friends of Abbeyleix Hospital committee.
“It was agreed that the plan for the future development of services in Abbeyleix would be progressed in conjunction with local community interests.
"The HSE has assured the minister that it remains committed to the lon gterm future of Abbeyleix which will continue to operate as a community hospital for the area.
“A further meeting is being planned to ensure the future development of services at Abbeyleix Hospital is appropriately communicated to all," the Dept said.
Cllr Willie Aird said he was keeping the letter.
“The torment and pain this plan caused, and people out marching, the pressure it put families under. I am delighted it's all gone now. I would like to see funding go into both Abbeyleix and Shaen, and bring back the amount of patients we can into both. There is a huge shortage out there. We as a local authority should ensure funding is brought,” he said.
Cllr John Joe Fennelly is from Abbeyleix.
“I want to thank Abbeyleix Hospital Action Committee and Friends of Abbeyleix Hospital. for their continuous work. We put plans in place and costed them for the HSE. I thank both groups, without them we wouldn't be where we are today,” he said.
However the Abbeyleix Hospital Action Committee PRO, Gary O' Keeffe, has rejected the Dept Health statement as “an empty promise”.
“It is a very empty promise without any sort of guarantee of what the facts are. It is very lacking in detail,” he said.
The committee which formed in 2011 to fight the proposed closure, was not informed or involved of the January meeting, nor of any upcoming meetings.
“We heavily engaged in consultations at the behest of the HSE , but no findings were ever published from it. It was a complete farce,” he said.
The hospital has a capacity of 50 beds he said.
“It is grossly underused, only for step down, step up or rehabilitation, that is not only jeopardising the use of the hospital, it is a misuse of public funding,” Mr O'Keeffe said.