A Dáil deputy has severely rapped the HSE for failing to meet a deputation to discuss the future of Belmullet District Hospital. The Fine Gael Spokesperson on Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Michael Ring, said he was “shocked” HSE management would not meet with a deputation, prior to a decision being made on the proposed closure of portion of the hospital.
The Westport TD had written to the HSE to set up the meeting but he was informed by Frank Murray, local health manager, HSE West: “I do not feel that meeting a deputation for one particular section or service in the county is appropriate at this point.”
Dep Ring said he had requested the meeting following a public meeting last Thursday night in Belmullet which was attended by more than 400 members of the public.
Mr Murray added in correspondence: “We are meeting at the end of March to try to finalise our considerations of all the matters and any explicit decisions taken after that time will be communicated appropriately to staff and the public. I will be making arrangements to meet with all Oireachtas and Health Forum members early in April to discuss the position in Mayo.”
The campaign to stop the closure of beds at Belmullet District Hospital is escalating following the public meeting.
Arising from the meeting a community hospital action group was formed which has already written to the HSE requesting a meeting to discuss the situation. Two emails requesting such a meeting were sent to Mr Murray, on Friday last and again on Monday, but while he has replied to Dep Ring no reply has yet been received by the action group.
A moratorium on recruitment within the public sector is a cause of great concern to those associated with and fighting for Belmullet District Hospital as people off on maternity leave, sick leave, and annual leave are not being replaced. Also a number of positions which have become available as a result of retirements have not been filled. As a result there are not enough staff to man the hospital’s 40 beds.
The next step for the action group is to request a meeting with Professor Brendan Drumm in an effort to outline the exceptional case that exists in Belmullet. Cllr Rose Conway-Walsh told the Mayo Advertiser that they will be asking the health chief if an application has been made for the extra staff needed to fill vacancies and provide necessary cover.
“Savings cannot be made in Belmullet,” Cllr Conway-Walsh explained, due to the vast geography of the area and the fact that 30 per cent of the area’s population are over 65. “Services need to be increased,” she pointed out, explaining that it makes sense for patients requiring sub acute care to be treated in Erris rather than having to undergo the 124 mile round trip from Blacksod to Mayo General Hospital, on probably the worst road in the country, where they are being left on trolleys due to the current overcrowding.
Any decision to downgrade or close beds at Belmullet Hospital would be against national policy, the Sinn Féin representative further outlined, given Prof Drumm’s commitment to community based care and his opinion that district hospitals will have a full and broader remit in the future.
As part of the ongoing campaign to protect Belmullet District Hospital a Facebook page which already has attracted some 1,000 fans has been set up and a petition is being signed and will be available for more signatures at Sunday’s local Masses.
With only a two-week window of opportunity before a decision is expected, the local community will continue their efforts to highlight the necessity to maintain the existing services available at Belmullet District Hospital. Emigrants raised a lot of money abroad to fund the hospital and to pay for equipment, Dep Ring added, taking the financial burden away from the health service. In the past the maternity section and casualty were closed and the hospital now operates on half an ambulance service, all of which happened “under the radar”, according to Cllr Conway-Walsh who was adamant that this “chipping away” at services in Belmullet must stop.