Abbeyleix hospital protest in 2011. Pic: Alf Harvey
The HSE has committed in writing to developing a sustainable long term plan Abbeyleix some seven years after it ordered its closure.
The commitment is contained in a reply issued to Laois Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming on foot of question put to the Minister for Health, Simon Harris. The HSE has told the TD it wants to develop the Abbyleix Community Nursing Unit as a community hospital as a step down facility for patients discharged from the Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise as well for short stay care.
Pat Bennett, chief Officer for Midlands, Louth, Meath Community Health Office Organisation replied.
"We wish to reiterate the commitment given by Pat Healy, National Director of Social Care, that the HSE would develop a sustainable model of service for the future which committed to the long term future of Abbeyleix which will operate as a community hospital for the area providing short stay beds for step up - step down from Portlaoise acute hospital as well as respite and transitional care beds for the area," said the reply.
Mr Bennett said the HSE is also committed to a project group being established in Quarter 1 2018, representative of all stakeholders to develop a plan for future services for Abbeyleix which will meet the needs of the population of Laois. He added that the HSE would continue to meet with the local committees that have campaigned for the hospital.
Dep Fleming welcomed the HSE statement and looked forward to working with the new project group to ensure Abbeyleix is on a sound secure footing providing top class services for the population of Laois for generations to come.
He said project group will obviously include the local committees supporting the hospital.
"This will both help the overcrowding in Portlaoise and will also give patients a better service that they require in Abbeyleix Community Hospital," he said.
In 2011 the HSE ordered closure. A court case taken by three elderly residents was key to the campaign to halt closure as was a big campaign by the Abbeyleix District Hospital Committee.
The HSE finally confirmed it would not close the hospital in 2016 but since 2011 no patients were admitted from Portlaoise hospital and no new long stay referrals were permitted by the HSE.
This changed in January at the height of the trolley crisis when the hospital was opened for discharges from Portlaoise and Tullamore hospitals.
A meeting followed supporters of the hospital where a verbal commitment was given to come up with a long term plan. The hospital campaign group want the HSE to adopt a 2012 expansion plan for the hospital drawn up in 2012 as part of a consultation process ordered by a High Court judge.
The campaign group want the hospital to be expanded to have capacity for at least 50 patients. The current capacity if for just 20 patients.