COMMENT: Clarity needed on Portlaoise hospital

COMMENT: Clarity needed on Portlaoise hospital

Clarity on the future of services at Portlaoise Hospital is well overdue.

It has been some time now since the public took to the streets of Portlaoise in large numbers last December to oppose in the most emphatic fashion the proposed downgrade of services at the hospital.

Minister for Health's Simon Harris commitment to engage in a consultation process with the relevant stakeholders finally seems to have commenced last week, and this is to be welcomed.

For too long now the future for services at the hospital, particularly its accident and emergency department, has been clouded in uncertainty and speculation, a state of affairs which is manifestly unfair to those who work in providing services and those who avail of them.

It's early days yet, and much remains unknown as to the parameters and terms of reference of this consultation process.

That it needs to be comprehensive and engage with all the stakeholders goes without saying.

The feelings of the public were more than evident last December on the streets of Portlaoise, and that is for the retention of services at the hospital.

That is also the viewpoint of a lot of professional opinion, including consultants and GPs.

In this week's paper the view of Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr Michael O'Connell is also clear cut - there is simply no capacity elsewhere in the system if the maternity unit at Portlaoise hospital was removed.

Indeed, the improvements and work that have been carried out at this unit in Portlaoise serves as a model for the delivery of all services.

The case for retaining A & E in Portlaoise has been rehashed many times, and everyone is familiar with them.

However, it's worth reiterating that Portlaoise's location and accessibility mark it out and are critical factors in any argument relating to the retention of services.

If anything Portlaoise now needs further investment in its core services and expediting an outpatients department, the plans of which are in place.

The overarching need is to create the conditions in which this can take place and in which a future for the hospital is established, one in which it can move forward.