Fears that the government was planning to turn Sligo General Hospital into a "glorified county home" were expressed at a meeting of Sligo County Council on Monday, where members voiced grave concern about recent closure of two wards and the loss of almost 20 nursing jobs.
Coming on top of the planned closure of breast cancer care services at the hospital, the recent developments have served to increase anxiety about the future of the regional hospital, and council members are now seeking an urgent meeting with the HSE to seek assurances on the issue.
The council meeting, which dealt with a number of separate motions on the matter, heard that an orthopaedic ward had been closed for some time and may not re-open; that a dedicated stroke unit had been closed with the loss of 22 jobs and that 19 temporary nursing contracts were not to be renewed.
"When viewed in tandem with other cut backs being implemented at Sligo General Hospital, it appears fears about the future of the hospital are well-founded," Clr. Sean MacManus told the meeting.
Speaking to his motion seeking clarification on the provision of orthopaedic services at the hospital, Clr. MacManus revealed one ward of the orthopaedic unit had already been closed and there was growing concern that the local orthopaedic services might be transferred to either Letterkenny or Castlebar hospitals.
"When we factor in the threatened removal of cancer care services then a truly appalling picture begins to emerge in relation to the future of the hospital," he added.
Clr. Margaret Gormley, who tabled a motion calling on the Health Minister and the HSE to reverse the decision to close wards at the hospital, said there was grave concern amongst the public and staff about what was happening.
The orthopaedic unit had been reduced from 52 to 24 beds, a stroke unit had been closed, and orthopaedic patients had to be treated in the maternity ward which was outrageous.
"All of this is having a detrimental effect on patients, not to mention the front line staff who are losing their jobs. It will soon be a glorified county home. It's time the Minister and the HSE came clean about their plans for Sligo General Hospital," she added.
Clr. Declan Bree, whose motion called on the government to reverse its decision to close the breast cancer care services, said a study compiled by Dr. Michael Martin, Consultant Oncologist at the Sligo hospital, demonstrated that the survival rates of cancer patients treated there were either identical to or superior to those currently being achieved in the United States.
Since the study, Professor Tom Keane, Professor Brendan Drumm and Minister Mary Harney had been unable to give written assurances that the same level of service would be available for cancer patients in the event of the services being transferred from Sligo.
The people of the county were being hoodwinked by the government, he claimed, pointing out that the Mayor of Galway had described University College Hospital Galway as a "centre of incompetence" which was overcrowded, underfunded and was not able to provide the quality of care expected in a centre of excellence.
Clr. Michael Fleming said because funding had been cut for the hospital, wards had to be closed and staff had to be "got rid of", a situation which was leading to great stress and anxiety for front line staff and for members of the public.
"If we let this happen to Sligo General Hospital then we should be ashamed of ourselves as public representatives," he added.