Portiuncula to be stretched but safe

Despite political and public opinion believing that the €7 million share of cuts to be foisted on Portiuncula hospital by the end of the year would “effectively close” the hospital, “the HSE can categorically state that there are no plans to close Portiuncula Hospital”.

The latest fears for the downgrading of the local hospital manifested themselves in a march in Ballinasloe on Monday which saw 3,000 members of the public turn up to voice their protest.

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

“To reduce costs we are changing existing practices, like revising rosters to eliminate overtime, reviewing temporary 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 requirement there are no plans to close Portiuncula Hospital,” he stated.

Last week it was revealed that the €4,600 cost per person per annum for health services in the western region would lead to a €93 million shortfall in the HSE’s budget this year, which would have to be addressed.

After already taking a 15 per cent slash in funding, the largest amongst the six hospitals in the region, in the last round of cuts, Portiuncula will only have to shoulder €7 million of the €93 million required in the region by the end of the year.

However, this is still regarded as “excessive” by local IMPACT trade union representative, Padraig Mulligan, who suggested the cuts and the employment freeze were all part of a HSE plan to downgrade smaller hospitals.

“The moratorium [on replacing staff] affects the smaller hospitals far more than the big hospitals,” he said.

“I only began to notice it with Loughloe House. The HSE starve smaller units of services and then send in HIQA,” he alleged.

HIQA is the Health Information and Quality Authority who rule on the level of quality on offer at HSE facilities.

Mr Mulligan believes the deficit was allowed to grow over a number of years as managers within the region continuously provided the services they were politically promised but not given funding for.

He believes the drive to deal with the deficit in the four months to the end of the year would “cut frontline services to the bone” and should be dealt with over a longer period.

Pointing out that the home help budget for the region was now spent and that the people relying on this were now presenting at hospital and adding to the pressure on the system, he described this as “penny wise but pound foolish”.

In recent years HSE West has continued to develop services in Portiuncula 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.

Earlier this year in a meeting with public representatives and staff, John Hennessy, regional director of operations for HSE West and Bridgetta McHugh, hospital manager, outlined the plan to deliver the following levels of service in Portiuncula as part of the 2010 Service Plan:

Inpatient Targets - 10,494; Daycases -7,338; Emergency Presentations -20,313; Emergency Admissions - 6,502; Outpatients - 42,497

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