This week marks a critical crossroads in the future of sevices at Portlaoise hospital as the Minister for Health, Simon Harris sits down with his cabinet colleague Charlie Flanagan and other TDs to discuss its possible downgrade.
Minister Flanagan expects to meet Minister Harris with Sean Fleming and Brian Stanley as early as today, Tuesday, December 5.
However, while the Minister is coming under political pressure he is also being lobbied from on high in his Department and the HSE to authorise a downgrade.
His Chief Medical Officer and the National Patient Officer have reportedly urged him to allow the plan's implementation. The HSE chief executive Dr Tony O'Brien has also urged Minister Harris to meet “the experts.”
It has also emerged that the downgrade plan's lead author, Dr Susan O'Reilly wanted to start implementing a reconfiguration plan in early 2017. The initial downgrade plan was agreed by her and her advisers in March 2016 and was submitted to the Department of Health in May that year.
The third version of this plan was submitted to the Department in September of this year, and it still has not been agreed.
The Dublin Midlands Hospital Group hoped to get capital approval for €100 million to invest early this year. Dr O'Reilly says the HSE has prioritised this spending on Tallaght, Tullamore, Portlaoise, Naas and the Coombe hospitals.
However, the Minister or Government has not given any public indication that this spending has the green light. Between now and 2022, the DMHG wanted to carry out extensive works in all hospitals.
To date no significant progress has been made in advancing any of the building projects.
The plan says its implementation is contingent on the completion of several ambitious and expensive building projects.
The Leinster Express asked the Department for a response to the protest last Saturday night.
“The most important issue in relation to consideration of services at the Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise is that patient safety and outcomes must come first,” it said.
The Department said that since 2014, the focus has been on supporting the hospital to develop and enhance management capability, implementing changes required to address clinical service deficiencies.
It said funding is up almost 30% but it repeated a statement that funding of €300,000 has also been provided in 2017 to facilitate the opening of the new medical assessment unit.
It said the DMHG's draft report was reviewed in detail and was the subject of detailed engagement between Department officials and the HSE.
It said significant additional work was undertaken by the HSE on foot of this engagement, resulting in a revised draft plan that was submitted to the Department in September 2017.
“The Minister is ensuring that the report is thoroughly considered in the context of a range of very important issues including bed capacity, demographic needs, future population in the midlands, hospital group configuration and Sláintecare,” it said.