Much relief as plans to close local hospice unit shelved

The planned closure by the HSE of the South Westmeath Hospice palliative care unit in Athlone has been shelved. The news was confirmed by Minister for Health, Simon Harris, following a meeting led by Minister of State, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran at which Longford/Westmeath Fine Gael Deputy Peter Burke and hospice committee members, Joe Whelan and Clare Lennon, were also in attendance.

Representatives of the South Westmeath Hospice committee were left shocked and devastated last week when the HSE announced firm plans to close the facility by the end of the year, but the decision to reverse this announcement will be positively received in Athlone and the Midlands region.

Minister Harris confirmed that the hospice committee had every right to feel aggrieved at the manner in which the HSE had dealt with the matter to date.

“I was very happy to hear from Minister Harris that the HSE plans have been shelved and that meaningful engagement must now take place between the HSE, the Hospice Committee and staff. As Minister Harris said, ‘the plan is not proceeding as currently outlined’ and I welcome his commitment on that. I am also very pleased that Minister Harris has taken up my invitation to visit the Hospice either this month or in October,” Deputy Moran announced.

Deputy Moran noted that Minister Harris was previously presented with a Letter of Guarantee from the HSE to the hospice in 2008 which is very clear cut and leaves no room for ambiguity surrounding previous commitments given.

“I further welcome Minister Harris’ view aired at the meeting that a community nursing unit is not the equivalent to a palliative care facility. I will continue to work with the hospice committee for a successful conclusion and I would like thank all those involved for their continued support on this very important facility. Common sense should prevail here and I believe that it will ultimately,” Minister Moran emphasised.

The four bed hospice facility opened on the grounds of St. Vincent’s Hospital in 2010 with the vast majority of the €1.9 million euro required to fund its construction being financed from fundraising campaigns and voluntary donations.

South Westmeath Hospice Secretary, Mr. Joe Whelan, expressed his immense satisfaction with the Minister’s announcement, stating that the committee had three key objectives pertaining to the facility.

“We have three objectives to achieve and yesterday was a win for one them the preservation of the hospice. We now have to ensure the other two, the HSE honour the letter of 2008 to mirror the current building in the new development in Clonbrusk and also that we are recognised as a key stakeholder in the delivery of palliative care. The campaign most definitely goes on,” Mr. Whelan remarked.

Welcoming the news, Town Mayor, Cllr. Frankie Keena, stated that the reversal of the decision would ease the immediate pressure on the hospice facility.

“I welcome the withdrawal of the HSE announcement last week. We may have won the battle for now and so it is imperative that we continue to be proactive and give of our continuous support of the South Westmeath Hospice.

“Hopefully, the various relevant representatives can now engage in meaningful and positive discussions with the HSE pertaining to the palliative care unit and I would like to thank the local public for their vast support of the hospice following the proposal to close the facility. The general public’s support sends a clear message to the Minister that there cannot be a reduction in palliative care services in our town,” Cllr. Keena emphasised.

Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke, noted that the announcement would bring much “relief” to those associated with the hospice facility and to the locality as a whole.

“It was with a sense of much relief that I received the news on Tuesday afternoon. We still must proceed with due caution and continue to raise awareness of the need to keep our hospice facility open. Knowing, however, that the facility is now not under immediate threat of closure means that those associated with the hospice can plan for the future,” Cllr. O’Rourke commented.

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