'Medical apartheid' warning as 15,000 join rally to save hospital
CONSULTANTS and medical staff have warned that there are just weeks left to save a major general hospital, which was opened by Mary Harney less than two years ago.
Up to 15,000 people took to the streets on Saturday to protest against a threatened downgrade of South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel -- the subject of a €45m upgrade in recent years -- and the transfer of facilities to Waterford Regional Hospital.
According to a consultant, such a move would create "medical apartheid" in the region, with acute services inaccessible to large swathes of the population.
However, a management consultants' report commissioned by the HSE last year recommended that acute services at South Tipperary General along with Wexford General Hospital and St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny be centralised at Waterford Regional Hospital.
A deputation representing the hospital and local politicians is due to meet Mary Harney on Wednesday.
Among those who addressed Saturday's rally were homeless campaigner Alice Leahy of Trust; champion racehorse trainer Aidan O'Brien and Tipperary hurling captain Eoin Kelly.
Meanwhile, 7,000 protesters took to the streets in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, yesterday to warn against any plans to downgrade Portiuncula hospital.
The HSE-run hospital is the biggest employer in the town, with more than 700 staff.
Government plans for a super-manager to run Portiuncula, Roscommon and Mayo hospitals from a base in University College Hospital Galway are bitterly opposed by unions at the Ballinasloe hospital.
They fear that budget restraints will lead to a reduction in services and job losses.
The HSE yesterday denied that the proposed changes would have any downgrading effect on the hospital.
Dr John Barton, a consultant at Portiuncula, said morale was very low. "It's the worst I have seen and I fear for the future of the hospital. It appears the HSE is not working with the hospital to secure its future development," he told the protesters who marched in Ballinasloe.