Health minister Simon Harris has said capacity at University Hospital Limerick are a 'serious issue'. Picture: Brian Arthur
The Minister for Health Simon Harris insists that he will not be 'bounced' into any decision to adopt a plan that recommends the downgrade of Portlaoise hospital which is not a 'clearcut' call.
Speaking in response to the leak of a Dublin Midlands Hospital Group (DMHG) plan for Portlaoise, Minister Harris said the Midlands Regional Hospital is not similar to Roscommon hospital where there was a 'clearcut' need to remove services in 2011.
He said lessons must also be learned from Limerick and the Mid-West where decision were taken to reconfigure services that caused 'significant challenges' in University Hospital Limerick.
In a radio interview, Minister Harris said the report entitled, 'Development of an Action Plan for a New Model of Clinical Service Delivery in the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group' , focuses on the appropriate level of services that the hospital can provide.
Under the plan, all emergency, maternity, paediatric and intensive care services would be removed. Hospitals in Dublin, Kildare and Offaly will pick up the slack. Portlaoise will become a Model 2 hospital which is what was proposed in 2011 when Roscommon and other hospitals were downgraded. At the time the then Minister, Dr James Reilly, removed Portlaoise from downgrade.
Under DMHG estimates, the plan could cost nearly €100 million in capital investment and four years to implement.
The DMHG says the plan has expert backing but has only been reviewed by the HSE. It says Portlaoise will be a busier hospital with more patients and a rise in the number of staff.
The proposal has been with the Minister for Health Simon Harris, for more than a year. He has yet to endorse or reject the plan but has asked for revisions. The latest leaked version dates to September this year.
Speaking after it was leaked to the Sunday Business Post, which charges people to read it, Minister Harris said it has been under consideration for quite some time.
"The status of the report is that it is in my department and that I will shortly be making a decision on how to proceed in fact I expect to bring clarity to the matter in the coming weeks but let me say this because I do think it is quite important.
"You do get the sense sometimes from the commentary in relation to this that it is sitting in the department gathering dust, what has actually been happening is significant engagement between my department and officials in the HSE in relation to this.
"I am not going to make mistakes that have been made in the past when it comes to reconfiguration. We have seen in the past, piecemeal decision making and we have seen in the past a situation where people look at one hospital and make decisions rather than looking at the whole jigsaw if I can put it like that," he said.
Minister Harris referenced the the Sláinte Care report, and said a bed capacity review was coming out very shortly.
"We need to look at the whole picture here and I am not going to be bounced or pressurised into making inappropriate decisions," he said.
The Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is a Laois TD. He has opposed downgrade for many years and continues to do so. As to whether a decision would be influenced by polticis he said the decision making process is very clear.
"I am the Minister for Health and I will make policy decisions, not the HSE. I’ll obviously take into consideration their views. I’ll take into consideration lots of different clinical views but I will also look at things like the Midwest in the past where decisions were taken to reconfigure services that caused significant challenges in Limerick.
"I’ll look at Sláinte Care, an all party approach wants me to look at how hospital groups are configured and I will also make the point that the last HIQA report out in Portlaoise pointed out very good progress for safety.
"I am the Minister for Health who set up a new national patient safety office, safety is absolutely paramount in everything we do but there is no HIQA report that suggests services need to be downgraded in Portlaoise.
"There were HIQA reports in relation to Roscommon that made the decision very clear cut. HIQA have said very clearly in relation to Portlaoise that there is a need for a plan and a decision and I will bring clarity to that in the coming weeks," said Minister Harris.