Following the announcement that the crucial cath lab at University Hospital Waterford is to close for up to three months for maintenance, Labour leader Brendan Howlin has accused the government and the HSE of showing 'a total disregard for the people of Wexford and the South East once again'.
Cardiac care in Wexford and surrounding counties was dealt a huge blow last week after it emerged that the Waterford cath lab is to close for twelve weeks to 'facilitate the replacement and upgrading of existing Cath Lab equipment'. While it has been highlighted on many occasions in the past that the lab at University Hospital Waterford is already over-prescribed when it comes to catering for the significant population of the South East, the temporary closure will mean that those requiring the urgent use of cardiac diagnostic equipment will either be sent to Cork University Hospital or St James' Hospital in Dublin.
The only cath lab catering for emergency cardiac procedures in the South East, the facility at University Hospital Waterford currently only provides cover from Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, a situation that has already been the subject of protests and bitter criticism.
Those critics have now stated that the 12 week closure of the cath lab is far too long to leave the South East Region without cardiac services and that it's something that could ultimately cost lives.
Having last week taken part in an emergency which saw a man airlifted from the quay in Wexford to Cork University Hospital after suffering a suspected stroke, Advanced Paramedic and independent councillor Ger Carthy is extremely critical of the government and the HSE on the topic and has accused them of gambling with the lives of Wexford people.
'That's a three month period where we're supposed to do without what is life-saving intervention,' he said. 'The law of averages would say that someone will fall foul of this.'
'What we're dealing with here is the constant and flagrant neglect of the people of Wexford and the South East,' he blasted. 'There's been a campaign to install a second cath lab in Waterford for some time. What's a cost of €2.5 million the grand scheme of things for the HSE? The government have reneged on the commitment to do this all the while massively overspending on the National Children's Hospital.'
Having previously voiced the need for a second cath lab for the South East, Labour leader Brendan Howlin is inclined to agree.
'It's a shocking situation,' he said. 'It's beyond mind-numbing and I don't believe it would happen in any other country. It shows a total disregard for the people of Wexford and the South East once again. While those in North Wexford are within striking distance of Dublin, those in the south of the county in particular are dependant on the facility in Waterford. There's been a tremendous campaign in relation to installing a second cath lab. There's no coherent argument against it and the money involved is relatively minor in the scheme of things and yet it still hasn't happened. To deteriorate these services further in the interim is beyond unacceptable and the long and short of it is that it's clear that we in the South East don't count in terms of overall health strategy in this country. Hundreds of millions are being spent elsewhere, but precious little in the South East.'
'This is just one in a series of cases of the total abadonment of the South East and it seems we've had little or no clout since I left the cabinet table.'
Cllr Carthy stressed the desperation of the situation and blasted the inaction of the government.
'We're not getting the same service in the South East as people are getting in Dublin. We're being denied the appropriate healthcare and in my view that's a basic human right. The silence on this is deafening from the Fine Gael Ministers.'
He says that lives will be put at risk while the upgrading of the Waterford cath lab is ongoing.
'We know that time is muscle when it comes to heart conditions. Last week's incident was an example of how it should be done and how getting someone to an appropriate facility can save their life. If this continues, then it will become more frequent that people will go into cardiac arrest and some won't make it back. Timing is everything and with the best will in the world, you're talking two and a half hours by road to Cork or thirty minutes by helicopter. Getting into St James' in Rialto, you'd be talking about two hours. Both fall well outside of the designated 90 minutes for incidents like these.'
Cllr Carthy also quetsioned whether any contingency plan would be put in place to cover ambulances from Wexford that are tasked with bringing patients to cath labs in Cork and Dublin.
'Are the people of Wexford's lives worth less than those in Cork or Dublin?' he concluded. 'It's a two tier system depending on where you live. Minister Harris has been found asleep at the wheel once again. He's had enough chances. It's time for him to go.'