Turmoil as Gilmore refuses to back cuts in his local A&E
LABOUR leader Eamon Gilmore last night refused to back cuts to his own local hospital, throwing government plans to axe A&E services countrywide into further turmoil.
The Tanaiste joins the ranks of TDs who are sweating on the backlash from a swathe of planned local hospital downgrades.
He has been put on the spot by plans to halt the round-the-clock A&E in St Colmcille's Hospital in Loughlinstown, Co Dublin, from November.
The hospital lies in Mr Gilmore's Dun Laoghaire constituency -- and he has previously vowed to campaign to keep the 24-hour emergency department open.
And last night he failed to back the HSE's plans to close the department in November. He said he had already been in discussions with senior HSE officials about the plans for Loughlinstown hospital.
"No decisions have been made yet and I have an assurance from the HSE officials that there will be discussions with me and with other public representatives before final decisions are made," he said.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) has identified Loughlinstown as one of the 10 hospitals where "significant risk issues" exist and where changes will have to be made. It is planning to halt the round the clock A&E in Loughlinstown from November.
Fine Gael is also facing mounting unease among its own backbenchers who fear the Government's plans to overhaul services at local hospitals will leave them in the firing line.
As the A&E department at Roscommon shut yesterday, locals launched angry protests and said promises had been broken. Two local councillors demanded Taoiseach Enda Kenny apologise to their constituents as they quit Fine Gael over the hospital downgrade.
Mr Kenny has come under pressure after he was forced to deny that he misled voters, when a tape recording revealed he made a pre-election pledge to maintain services at the midlands hospital.
Mr Gilmore was also accused of making false promises to the people of Roscommon after another audio recording emerged of him making a similar pledge.
"The Labour Party policy will be to retain Roscommon Hospital and to retain all of the services," he said on Shannonside Radio's 'Joe Finnegan Show' last September.
Last night, Mr Gilmore said he had made these comments in "good faith".
"What we've had since then is the publication of the HIQA report (on smaller hospitals). That report needs to be addressed as seriously as HIQA reports when they are issued in respect of nursing homes," he said.
In total 10 hospitals have now been identified where "significant risk issues" exist and where changes will have to be made.
This has sparked growing disquiet among backbench TDs who feel they will lose the party whip if they dare to vote against the government line.
Mr Gilmore said there would have to be changes to local hospital services in the interests of patient safety. Loughlinstown is located just 12km from St Vincent's Hospital, which has a full 24-hour service.
But Mr Gilmore's failure to back the withdrawal of the 24-hour A&E service in Loughlinstown is likely to strengthen backbench opposition to cuts to local hospitals.
It came as the A&E department in Roscommon Hospital was shut down yesterday, with seriously ill patients being transferred to hospitals in Galway, Sligo and Mayo instead.
The Taoiseach is expected to come under further pressure in the Dail today over the issue.
Health Minister James Reilly will attempt to dampen down the growing unease in the party when he attends a question-and-answer session at a specially arranged meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party tomorrow.
The other hospitals identified by HIQA as having "serious risk issues" include Navan, Portlaoise, Mallow, Bantry, Ennis, Nenagh, St John's Hospital in Limerick and Louth County Hospital.
One of the most immediate issues is the emergency department in Mallow, which is due to be closed and replaced by an urgent care centre in November.
Fine Gael Cork East TD Tom Barry said he was going to challenge the recommendation by health regulator HIQA at the meeting with Dr Reilly.
"I'm going to say, 'Listen -- put the closure of Mallow on pause'. The argument here is that HIQA's report is not comprehensive enough," he said.
Mr Barry is going to provide Dr Reilly and every other member of the party with a copy of a letter from his brother Michael -- who is a former HIQA board member and a consultant clinical pharmacologist.
It contains references to research challenging HIQA's argument that small hospitals cannot provide safe care.