“Horrendous” is how the chairman of the HSE West’s regional health forum has described the fact that almost 90 beds have now been closed in local public hospitals due to budgetary cutbacks.
Commenting on the findings of a survey carried out by the Irish Nurses’ Organisation, Cllr Padraig Conneely said the bed losses were a “serious setback” and a major worry for the public, especially the sick and older people.
He called on HSE boss Professor Brendan Drumm - who will step down from the helm of the health authority next summer when his five-year contract comes to an end - to leave now and allow an executive with a business management background to take over.
He alleged once the professor - the HSE’s first chief executive - announced he was leaving he became a “lame duck” and claimed he would not be taken seriously.
The INO study revealed eight beds were closed in St Mary’s Ward at University Hospital, 34 medical ward beds and nine orthopaedic day ward beds were lost at Merlin Park while 36 beds which were closed for the summer at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe did not re-open.
The survey also confirmed that the level of overcrowding in emergency departments across the country increased in September this year by 31 per cent compared to September 2007.
Cllr Conneely said the closure of even one bed impacts directly on patients. “The health system is obviously not working. The management and direction of the HSE is all directed towards finance, the care of patients seems secondary. The HSE and the Department [of Health] haven’t got it right. They are still failing under their statutory obligation to provide a public health service in this country. Current HSE management under Professor Brendan Drumm is not able or does not want to accept that it [the system] is not working.
“Professor Drumm has indicated he is going to retire [from the position] in June. Once you announce your retirement you become a lame duck. Once you announce you are retiring from anything that’s it. You won’t be taken seriously. Professor Drumm is moving on to greener pastures. He should step down now and allow a new CEO to be appointed, a non-medical person, somebody from a business management background. Currently the public health system is broken, it is not working.”
The former mayor said the bed closures, in addition to the fact that more than 23,000 people were on outpatient waiting lists, some waiting five years to be seen, was an issue of grave concern.
“This is a serious setback for the public, there is a fear out there that people won’t be able to get a bed. With concerns over possible increased hospital admissions due to swine flu, seasonal flu and other winter conditions there is bound to be more pressure on the system.”
Noreen Muldoon, the Irish Nurses’ Organisation’s industrial liaison officer in the west, said the survey confirms the “very negative impact” of the budgetary cutbacks on frontline patient care.
“The extent of the bed closures, the impact of delayed discharges and the increasing level of A&E overcrowding when taken together demonstrate the severity of the crisis already facing our health services.
“When you add to this the impact of the Government embargo on staff recruitment, which saw almost 300 jobs nationally (157 of which were nursing posts ) lost in July alone, it is self-evident that it is frontline services, staff and patients who are being hit by these cuts despite the denials of the HSE and the Department of Health and Children.”
She stated it was a “sad but stark truth” that the health service has never been less prepared to face the onslaught of winter with all of the additional demands it brings, especially the challenge that will be faced by managing the swine flu pandemic. “Notwithstanding our very difficult financial situation the Government must prioritise the maintenance of frontline services and ensure that all available beds are open, frontline staff replaced and primary care services improved so that the sick in our society can access the quality of care they need and deserve.”