Secret report called for hospital closure
Published 16/08/2010 | 05:00
plans to close a major country hospital to cut costs were first tabled more than two months ago, the Irish Independent can reveal.
A secret report by independent consultants for the Health Service Executive (HSE) named Roscommon County Hospital and said transferring beds to Galway University Hospital (GUH) could help to bridge a shortfall of up to €61m. The proposal said this could be done by reopening 90 closed beds in GUH, moving permanent staff from Roscommon and axing temporary staff contracts at each of the sites.
The report, carried out for HSE West by Mott MacDonald, said the move would improve rosters at Galway and Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe and cut spending on junior doctors' overtime -- as medical staff would be covering fewer sites.
The proposal was included in a menu of radical options in the assessment of cost-containment measures that aim to reduce the shortfall between existing savings and the reduction needed to break even.
The document said: "In the medium term, this could include the closure of Roscommon Hospital and the transfer of beds to GUH (reopen the closed 90 beds) with the redeployment of permanent staff from Roscommon and the cessation of temporary staff contracts at each of the sites.
"This should reduce NCHD (non-consultant hospital doctor) overtime costs through improved rotas at GUH and Portiuncula as medical staff will now be covering fewer sites."
However, the names of the hospitals were removed from a final report released by the HSE more than a week ago.
The amended version of the independent consultants' report said a hospital could close "in the medium term" as an emergency cost-cutting measure, but did not specifically mention Roscommon Hospital.
The revelations come as more than 8,000 people took to the streets of Roscommon at the weekend to protest amid fears that the hospital may be drastically downgraded or closed.
Protesters formed a chain of hands around the hospital and said they would run an election candidate on the issue during the rally. The HSE, however, said it had no plans to close Roscommon or any acute hospitals in the west, but that it would close some wards and reduce theatre time.
Fears remain among locals and staff, however, that the hospital may be effectively shut over time if it is severely downgraded from its current 24 hour a day, seven-day-a-week service.
There are also concerns that the report, which cost €90,000, could be produced by the HSE at a later date to justify closing the hospital. In the meantime, the HSE has already begun to act on other aspects of the report, including the non-renewal of temporary contracts.
Last week, unions were informed of plans to make Galway and Roscommon an "integrated service area" at the Labour Relations Commission.
The HSE said its cost-containment plan was a "must" and "non-negotiable" as it faced an estimated €90m deficit by the end of the year.
The Irish Independent revealed the existence of the confidential document, which was the first draft of the report published in early June, over a week ago, and that it had singled out Roscommon County Hospital for closure.
Six other medical facilities with high deficits were examined, but only Roscommon was mentioned for closure.
The draft report said achieving the savings identified in discussions with individual members of the HSE West Regional Assurance Team could take up to two years.
It is understood that Powerpoint presentations examining the implications of downsizing or closing Roscommon and Portiuncula were given around this time.
However, the existence of a maternity unit at Portiuncula led to numerous concerns being raised about the impact on services if it was earmarked for closure.