More A&E closures despite election promises
The first signal that the Health Service Executive's (HSE) plans to continue downgrading several smaller hospitals around the country emerged yesterday -- despite the Government's pre-election promises to protect services.
The 24-hour A&E unit in St Columcille's Hospital in Loughlinstown, Co Dublin, is to be reduced to a daytime minor injury service although no date has yet been set for the change.
Complex surgery at the hospital is also to be ended as part of a move to reorganise services in the south Dublin and Wicklow region.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, whose constituency includes St Columcille's, was drawn into the row of the change in services yesterday but he said he would "continue to campaign to keep them going".
He added: "I think it is important that A&E services are continued in St Columcille's Hospital and that is something I'll be talking to the HSE about."
A combination of safety fears for patients as well as lack of junior doctors and shortage of funding, however, looks set to make many of the changes unavoidable, despite local opposition.
Other hospitals which are also on the list for change include Roscommon County Hospital, which is also threatened with losing its round-the-clock A&E over time.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), the patient safety watchdog, has recently received a report from the HSE outlining the plans to downgrade Roscommon County Hospital. It indicated it would first remove major surgery from the hospital, although doctors there can continue to carry out more routine operations.
A spokeswoman for the HSE West said yesterday: "We are currently examining a number of options in relation to Roscommon County Hospital and discussions are ongoing."
The move is set to cause a serious backlash for many TDs and ministers who delivered pledges of support to groups campaigning for the retention of services before the election.
The Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, indicated earlier this week that there would be no hospital closures but could not guarantee that they would retain the existing services.
A HSE spokeswoman said the changes relate to how services are delivered and "are in the interests of patient safety. The changes are to be implemented in the majority of similar sized hospitals throughout the country, as detailed in the HIQA report".