Monday 18 December 2017

Health body accused of trying to downgrade hospital

Don Lavery

A health watchdog was at the centre of controversy yesterday over hospitals in Cork and Kerry amid fears that Mallow General Hospital (MGH) may be downgraded, while a new €16m hospital in Dingle remained closed in a row over registration.

The demise of a third hospital, Roscommon County Hospital, also appeared to be on the cards, with reports that it may be closed or downsized as part of a plan to plug a €63m hole in the finances of HSE West.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) is to conduct an independent audit of MGH.

The inquiry will be carried out by HIQA and the terms of reference are due to be announced this week.

However, campaigners have dismissed claims that the watchdog launched the inquiry following complaints made to it about the 76-bed hospital, which serves a population of around 100,000 people.

They argue that the independent inquiry should not be used as a back-door method of downgrading the facility.

Cork TD Sean Sherlock (Lab) said he was "deeply concerned" and the move smacked of suggestions that HIQA was now buying into the long-standing HSE agenda of downgrading MGH.

He said yesterday that his information was that the inquiry was not to do with patient safety but administrative deficiencies in the HSE.

"This is a very serious move and runs totally contrary to the fantastic patient reports and satisfaction rates with MGH over many, many years," he added.

He said people were "aghast" at the inquiry and added: "This inquiry is nefarious in its aims."

Fine Gael Cork East TD David Stanton said the investigation must not amount to "closure by stealth".

"There is a real fear that these hospital probes end up being closure by a thousand cuts. Mallow is essential for north Cork and provides a vital service for the centre of Munster," he said.

Friends of Mallow Hospital have warned that they will not tolerate "a campaign by stealth" to undermine the facility's status as an acute hospital.

The hospital operates an A&E unit and its catchment area includes north Cork, south Tipperary, south Limerick and even parts of north Kerry.

For almost 30 years, there have been doubts over Mallow's status as an acute hospital -- largely because of its proximity to Cork city, where there are three major hospitals, Cork University (CUH), the Mercy University (MUH) and the South Infirmary-Victoria University (SIVUH).

HIQA was also involved in a row in Dingle over a new hospital that will remain empty for the foreseeable future after its scheduled opening was postponed after a registration wrangle.

The new 68-bed community hospital had its long-awaited opening postponed after it emerged that there were problems over its registration by HIQA.

The launch of the Dingle facility was postponed by the HSE just five days before it was scheduled to open on July 27 last.

Now, elderly patients in Kerry face having to continue to rely on the ageing facilities at St Elizabeth's Hospital -- while the state-of-the-art new hospital lies idle less than one kilometre away.

It's now feared that the Kerry facility may not be commissioned for several months.

The HSE said it had no idea when the community hospital will eventually be able to open.

"The transfer has been postponed due to the fact that the required HIQA registration process for residential care services for older people is not completed on the new facility.

"It had been hoped that this process would be completed in time to allow the move to go ahead, however, it is now clear that this is not achievable and a new transfer of service date will be chosen once registration has been provided," a HSE spokes- person said.

Catherine Byrne, Fine Gael spokesperson on older citizens, has asked the Minister for Health and Children to intervene in the saga.

"Residents and their families have now been told by the HSE South that the opening has been delayed 'indefinitely'. This has caused undue hardship and stress to elderly patients, who were awaiting the move to the new facility", Ms Byrne said.

"Surely local HSE officials would have followed HIQA guidelines regarding facilities and safety standards at the very early stages of the planning of this new facility, so why the cock-up?

"Why the yet again unfortunate delay in moving elderly residents and staff coping in Dickensian facilities to a new state-of-the-art facility which is standing idle?"

Meanwhile, the closure of an entire hospital -- possibly Roscommon County Hospital -- 1,000 redundancies and axing key services are among a "menu" of options to cut costs drawn up in a consultants' report for HSE West.

The confidential report, drawn up by UK consultants Mott McDonald, said the HSE West cannot realistically break even by the end of the year without immediate radical action.

Sunday Independent

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