Politicians urged to use their influence to protect Portiuncula services

Franciscan sisters Michaela, Anne, Ethna and Ita who work at Portiuncula Hospital at the protest outside the hospital in Ballinasloe on Tuesday. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Franciscan sisters Michaela, Anne, Ethna and Ita who work at Portiuncula Hospital at the protest outside the hospital in Ballinasloe on Tuesday. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

A union boss has issued a stern warning to local politicians - “Use your seat to protect services at Portiuncula Hospital or lose it”.

Padraig Mulligan, the assistant general secretary of IMPACT locally and the chairperson of the Ballinasloe Hospital Action Committee, was speaking to 3,000 people who formed a human chain around the 197-bed facility on Tuesday.

The protest aimed to highlight continuing fears that the county hospital, which caters for patients from east Galway, Westmeath, north Tipperary, Roscommon and Offaly, may be downgraded as part of HSE cuts.

However, the health authority insists there are no plans to close the hospital, which is expected to cater for almost 81,000 patients this year. The HSE says it has continued to develop services there, including a new special care baby unit, a new emergency department and a rapid diabetic pre-assessment clinic.

Mr Mulligan said by creating a symbolic wall of steel in the form of a human chain around the hospital people were saying to decision makers, “You will have to come through all of us to downgrade our hospital”.

“A very clear massage was sent to the HSE and politicians, ‘Hands off our hospital’. Talks began this week on the reconfiguration of health services in the HSE West. We want to remind local politicians that the 10,000 people who marched in support of Portiuncula on 28th March have not gone away. There is no doubt that your ‘seat’ is directly linked to the future of our hospital. Use your seat to protect services at Portiuncula or lose it.

“As a community we have lost enough. We are not going to allow our hospital to be downgraded or take away the services it provides to the most vulnerable and needy in our community. In recent weeks, the HSE have moved to take €7 million out of the budget of Portiuncula, an act that effectively begins the downgrading of our hospital.”

He said bitter experience has taught people the telltale signs of downgrading. “We were then told by the HSE that some services will move to Galway. But the problem is UHG cannot manage service demands now. In recent months it had 55 patients on trolleys, all elective surgery was cancelled and admissions closed. Basically, ‘no room at the inn’. This is without our community and that served by Roscommon [if its hospital were closed as a cost cutting measure] being added to their catchment area.”

He said the HSE announced that €90 million will be taken out of the HSE West’s budget, 60 per cent of which is to be taken from acute hospitals.

“University College Hospital has a hole in its budget of €24 million as things stand and may face further significant cuts to this year’s budget. The first challenge of the new super manager is to implement the new HSE cuts and address the current deficit.

“The result of this for our hospital will be to implement a €7m cut and seriously curtail resources and services provided in Ballinasloe. A significant amount of services will move to Galway where they are struggling to cope with service demands that they already have,” he claimed. “It is a fact that in the HSE West the highest cut to any hospital budget since 2008 came from the budget of Portiuncula, 14 per cent. Not my figures, but the HSE’s. Mayo budget cut was six per cent, Galway was nine per cent, and Roscommon 12 per cent.”

In a statement the HSE West stated that there are no plans to close Portiuncula Hospital.

“In recent years the HSE West has continued to develop services in the hospital, including a new special care baby unit; a new emergency department; an early pregnancy unit; rapid diabetic pre-assessment clinics; thrombolysis; urodynamics; and two new surgeon appointments have been approved.

At a meeting earlier this year with east Galway councillors, public representatives and staff John Hennessy, regional director of operations for the HSE West and Bridgetta McHugh, hospital manager, outlined plans to deliver the following levels of service in Portiuncula as part of the 2010 Service Plan:- 10,494 inpatient targets, 7,338 day cases, 20,313 emergency presentations, 6,502 emergency admissions and 42,497 outpatients.”

Dr David O’Keeffe, the recently appointed clinical director of acute services for Galway/Roscommon, says Portiuncula Hospital provides the majority of hospital services required by people living in east Galway and surrounding areas and will continue to do so.

“We are on target to deliver the goals set out above. The way we deliver health services is changing: medical technology and advances in medicine and research means that we have to ensure that we offer patients a health service that gives the best outcome and increased survival rates. The best health services are designed around the needs of the people who use them; rather than on a geographic or historical basis. I want to reassure people that there are no hospital closures taking place; every hospital in the acute hospital network will continue to deliver the majority of health service required by the local community it serves.”

The challenge for people working in the health service is to deliver and enhance services by improving effectiveness and reducing costs, in an environment of reduced resources. the statement outlines.

“ To reduce HSE West costs we are changing existing practices, for example revising rosters to eliminate overtime; reviewing temporary staff contracts; closing some wards and reducing theatre time. While the role of all hospitals, large and small, will change in the short and medium term in order to comply with HIQA standards and forthcoming licensing requirements there are no plans to close Portiuncula Hospital.”

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