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Fears must be addressed for hospital plan to work

The concept of hospitals in the same general area working together is hardly ground-breaking. Yet it has taken a report by a panel of national and international experts to develop a formal template for an enhanced level of cooperation.

Today's long-awaited publication of the 'Report on the Establishment of Hospital Groups' will show the masterplan for the coordination of services.

The plan is intended to begin the transition towards the setting up of Hospital Trusts.

To ensure public support for the proposals, the Government is allying the plan with a report on maintaining local hospitals entitled: 'Securing the Future of Smaller Hospitals: A Framework for Development'.

Health Minister Dr James Reilly is describing the plan as the "most fundamental reform" of the Irish acute hospital system in decades.

The report by Prof John Higgins sets out why it is necessary to change how hospitals work.

"The traditional practice of providing as many services as possible in every hospital is neither sustainable nor safe. Experience in Ireland and beyond teaches us that a coordinated system of care is better for patients than a sporadic approach," it concludes.

The report says each hospital group will have to be of sufficient scale, have numbers of hospitals and range of services to be able to deliver meaningful reform prior to the creation of independent hospital trusts.

Provided it is implemented, the objective of the plan is to be welcomed. Unfortunately, there have been new dawns before on the reform of the health service.

Concerns about hospitals being downgraded, on the back of the plan, appear to have been allayed for now, particularly in Waterford.

However, any further fears for local services will have to be addressed with straight answers to straight questions, regardless of the political unpalatability.

If the valid logic behind the report is to be bought into, the impact of the implementation of the proposals will have to be explained honestly.


Irish Independent