OPINION: Support Minister in face of tenacious campaign to downgrade hospital

OPINION: Support Minister in face of tenacious campaign to downgrade hospital

I write in response to your invitation to comment on the proposed downgrading of Portlaoise Hospital as reported in the Leinster Express of 30 October 2017.

This proposal must be opposed by all the people of Laois and surrounding counties.

However, it is not enough to save our A&E by not implementing the HSE recommendation to downgrade. Nothing less than a positive commitment to upgrade the hospital will suffice.

A constant war of attrition has been waged on our hospital for years by reports and rumours of reports, threats and scandals.

The problems with the maternity services highlighted in 2014 needed to be exposed and addressed, and media attention was instrumental in seeing that action was taken and all necessary safeguards put in place.

However, everybody who follows news and current affairs will have noted the many similar cases which have come before the courts in recent years, where the tragedies have taken place in various other maternity units around the country.

The media reporting of events in Portlaoise at no stage acknowledged this or looked at comparative statistics for tragic incidents.

Nor did it highlight the fact that it was the failure to fund adequate staffing levels and training that caused the service to be unsafe.

If we are bought off with a mere assurance that the A&E will not be downgraded in the immediate future the HSE will have succeeded in allowing this war of attrition to continue, eventually achieving its aim of demoralizing staff and public alike. This plays into the hands of Dr Susan O’Reilly and the HSE authorities.

The Sunday Business Post report by Susan Mitchell (5 November) adds another layer to the media propaganda which has been directed at Portlaoise Hospital for years.

Mitchell’s report is sympathetic to the frustration of the expert Dr Susan O’Reilly, who is presented as in the right, versus the negligence of Minister Harris who is presented as hiding from making the necessary hard decisions.

She highlights problems in Portlaoise referred to by Dr O’Reilly but asks no questions as to how a better service might be provided in the other already overstretched hospitals in the group.

Portlaoise has a throughput of approximately 40,000 patients through A&E annually whereas the city hospitals of Tallaght and St James’s have 50,000 each.

Yet Portlaoise can be deemed not busy enough for specialists to maintain their skills.

This absence of logic needs to be answered immediately and emphatically.

The ‘irresolvable clinical risks’ noted by Dr O’Reilly can be resolved by adequate investment. Ms Mitchell does not ask why the financial allocation for Portlaoise Hospital for 2017 is €57,473,723 while that for Tullamore is €92,971,039.

Minister Harris needs our support in standing up to a very strong and tenacious campaign to downgrade our hospital.

He will obviously feel challenged by allegations that he is putting the safety of patients at risk, by holding off on stripping Portlaoise of its essential services.

It is of course the HSE which is putting patient safety at risk in this issue and the HSE which has been compromising patient safety for years by failing to recruit and train staff and by diverting necessary resources away from Portlaoise.

Surely in a time of crisis the first principle of government is to use the resources it has, wisely and to their utmost effect.

In the case of Portlaoise Hospital those resources include a functioning 24 hour A&E department with skilled and dedicated staff, operating from a modern purpose-built unit.

The hospital has a maternity facility which has been improved and aligned with the Coombe, a paediatric unit, an acute psychiatric unit, an intensive care unit and a coronary care unit.

In 2015 Portlaoise was the best performing hospital in the country for survival of patients who had suffered a heart attack. All the other services require the back-up of 24 hour A&E to function properly.

We demand that Portlaoise Hospital be staffed, resourced and financed to develop as a properly funded facility with all the above services, in accordance with the plan for the hospital put forward by the local GPs and consultants.

Now is the time to make a bold progressive decision to invest in Portlaoise Hospital in line with the GP/Consultant plan, and for Minister Harris to stand firm in declaring that this government and his department is responsible for health policy, and will not be harried by a discredited HSE into closing services which have been painstakingly built up with the people’s money and staff dedication.

Every democratic government must be committed to using the resources it has at any given time to achieve the best services possible for the people.

The people of Laois, a growing population which contributes hugely to the tax revenue of the state, must surely demand that their A&E unit and their hospital be adequately staffed and resourced to continue to provide the services on which they and the people of surrounding counties depend.

This campaign needs the support of all citizens, political representatives, groups and organisations in Laois and surrounding counties.

It also deserves the support of those who live in the catchment area of larger hospitals, not faced with any downgrading threat but whose services will be overloaded to breaking point by the closing of services in Portlaoise and other hospitals.

Similarly those who live in the catchment areas of hospitals which are under threat of downgrade should be committed to stopping this policy now before any more harm is done.

Ní neart go cur le chéile. It is time to speak truth to power.

Breda Fitzpatrick



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