THE State's only dedicated HIV respite ward is on the brink of closure after the HSE this week told staff not to admit any more patients, the Herald can reveal.
Staff and patients at the Rowan Ward in Cherry Orchard Hospital, Ballyfermot, now "fear the worst" after the shock decision to refuse any new patient admissions.
The Rowan Ward was opened in the early 1990s and provides care to HIV patients. It is the only dedicated respite care unit of its kind in Ireland.
The Herald revealed earlier this month that the HSE is considering the closure of the ward.
And we can further reveal today that senior staff were told last Monday not to admit any new patients. Senior sources at the hospital have admitted that staff and patients are "fearful for the ward's future" but have so far been given no indication as to any timeframe of a closure.
And the HSE has been accused of "signing a death warrant" for HIV patients if it presses ahead with closure.
The 18-bed ward provides care to patients suffering from Aids, and is staffed by 12 nurses and two nursing managers.
Anne O'Flanagan, whose brother Larry has been a patient in the ward for 14 years, told the Herald today that her family feel "betrayed" by the HSE.
"Everyone is resigned to the fact it's closing and we just don't know what to do," she said.
"The Rowan Ward has saved my brother's life. He was on his death bed before he came here. The staff are incredible. How can they take it away when it is saving lives?"
A HSE spokesperson told the Herald that it is "constantly reviewing" the services provided by the Rowan Ward.
"The HSE is constantly reviewing all service provision in the context of how best to deliver the service for the clients and in light of the current economic circumstances and staffing limitations as a consequence of the public sector moratorium.
"No decision has been taken with regard to the Rowan Ward, Cherry Orchard. All stakeholders will be fully consulted in the event of any such decisions."
People Before Profit councillor Brid Smith told the Herald today that she is organising "strong opposition" to any plans to close the ward.
"The HSE may as well sign a death warrant for the HIV patients that receive respite in the Rowan Ward. This is a low and severe blow to more of our most vulnerable members of this community."