Hospital closing rumours “speculation and scaremongering”

Despite recent claims the HSE has, this week, refuted all closure rumours for either Roscommon or Portiuncula hospitals.

“The HSE can categorically state that there are no plans to close Roscommon County Hospital (RCH ),” and “despite the financial challenge faced this year, Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe will deliver the level of care and service targets for which it is funded, as set out in the 2010 service plan” were the two statements received from John Hennessy, regional director of operations for HSEW, on this issue this week by The Athlone Advertiser.

The source of the panic seems to have been the release of a cost-saving report, commissioned by the HSE and published in June by employee-owned, international management consultancy firm Mott MacDonald, which outlined the measures required to rein in the 2009 overspend of €83 million in the western region. Nowhere in the report mentioned closure of any of the six hospitals in the region, yet claims have been made that both hospitals might close.

In fact, there is even a disclaimer on page five of the report from the authors that it “is issued for the [HSE] and for specific purposes connected with the above-captioned project only. It should not be relied upon by any other party or used for any other purpose”.

“What was reported in the media over the weekend is sheer speculation and scaremongering and undermines confidence in the hospital and people should be wary of overreacting to such a report,” said Minister Michael Finneran.

Mott MacDonald was called in by the HSE in April when it became evident that the HSE West’s overspend by that month had reached €46 million, and was projected to reach €107 million by the end of the year, a figure revised back to €90 million by July. The overspend for the HSEW in 2009 was €83 million, or 3 per cent of its €2.3bn budget for a population of just over 500,000. This puts Connacht’s health costs at €4,600 per person, per annum.

Following its review, Mott MacDonald reported its measures could realise savings of between €44-54 million this year, with a further €95 million possible for 2011. These are to be achieved through a number of means such as revising rosters to eliminate overtime, reviewing temporary staff contracts, closing some wards, and reducing theatre time.

“The Mott MacDonald report is a tool that can assist management in achieving the cost savings that are required to ensure that the HSEW does not spend money it does not have. This report is a guidance document and will form part of the analysis and planning required to reach a break even position at year end,” said Mr Hennessy.

“Like every other public service we have to live within the budget that we have been allocated in 2010; we do not have the authority to spend money that is not allocated.”

He went on to reassure the citizens of the locality with regard to the future of the two hospitals.

“Roscommon County Hospital provides the majority of hospital services required by people living in Roscommon and surrounding areas, and will continue to do so. The way we deliver health services is changing...and we have to ensure we offer patients a health service that gives the best outcome and increased survival rates,” he said.

“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.”

In recent years HSEW has continued to develop services in the hospital; including a new diabetes and endocrinology service, a respiratory service, and a proposed new rheumatology service.

“Despite the financial challenge faced this year, Portiuncula Hospital Ballinasloe will deliver the level of care and service targets for which it is funded, as set out in the 2010 Service Plan,” he continued.

This was given as 7,338 day cases, 10,694 inpatients, and 42,497 outpatients. This compares to the RCH figures for 2010 at 3,914 day cases, 14,289 emergency presentations, 4,000 emergency admissions, and 13,328 outpatients. Mullingar, by comparison returned figures for 2009 of 7,237 day cases 18,822 inpatient discharges, 32,841 A&E attendances, and 2,934 births.

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