Up to 1,000 people are expected to march through the streets of Ballinasloe on Sunday amid fears that Portiuncula Hospital may be downgraded as part of a restructuring of hospitals in the region.
Unions and concerned locals are worried that the HSE’s decision to expand the role of the new general manager at Galway University Hospitals to include Portiuncula and Roscommon could result in the downgrading of the Ballinasloe facility and see local services and jobs transferred to Galway.
Padraig Mulligan, the western assistant general secretary of the trade union IMPACT, says feelings are running very high and local organisations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, sports and community groups will be represented on the day.
His union has told its members not to co-operate with moves to consolidate services in Galway and says in other regions similar changes of reporting relationships [such as Portiuncula reporting directly to the UHG manager] turned out to be early warnings that major concentrations of local services were being planned.
“People can see what’s going to happen and are very concerned. Portiuncula and Roscommon are both independent budget holders at the moment but that will change and they will be significantly disadvantaged.”
He says it is difficult to understand the rationale behind expanding the scope of the as yet unfilled position of general manager of University Hospitals Galway [UHG and Merlin Park].
“Mayo, which is the other western hospital, has been left out of this. I believe that’s because there is a Taoiseach in waiting there. Galway [Portiuncula] is very proud of its services and is equally determined it won’t happen. We feel this restructuring will result in a downgrading and a loss of services to the Ballinasloe community.”
Mr Mulligan says the town has been dealt a severe blow with the closure of three industries and 10 shops this year.
“It lost its three biggest employers, Square D (200 jobs ), AT Cross (250 jobs ) and Dubarry (similar numbers ). People in Ballinasloe, especially business people, are already badly hit. Ten shops have gone in the town this year. The area is a black spot in relation to employment. The Celtic Tiger bypassed it. The only thing that came through Ballinasloe is the motorway. The jewel in the crown is Portiuncula Hospital.
“At the same time the HSE is looking to sell land around St Brigid’s Hospital. It isn’t building land, it’s agricultural which has not lost its value. The local community want the money invested in the HSE infrastructure in our area than move it to other areas. They are stripping the assets of the community and are doing nothing to protect the infrastructure already there.”
He says the protest march will highlight the risks to Portiuncula and will hopefully make the HSE reconsider what he claims are its plans to downgrade both the Ballinasloe and Roscommon hospitals.
While the HSE insists it has no plans to downgrade the County Galway hospital the IMPACT official says the “facts point to something completely different”.
“I fear the worst. Everybody who attended the meeting [with the HSE] from SIPTU to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation feared the worst, too.
“The eyes of the community are on the elected representatives from our area, particularly those who are in power. We won’t forgive or forget the role they will play in protecting the hospital, its jobs and the services it provides to the community. All of us are united, we will fight the issue head-on and will stand shoulder to shoulder with the local community.
“We are calling on the public and on community and sporting groups to take part in the march. The hospital has always been there for you. Rally round to its cry for support, in its greatest hour of need. History will judge you on how we react to this major challenge to the health service in our community.”
In an earlier statement the HSE West insisted local hospitals will not be downgraded as a result of the decision to expand the role of general manager.
“In the course of recruiting a new general manager for Galway University Hospitals a national decision has been taken to expand the role to include Portiuncula Hospital and Roscommon County Hospital. There is no question of the downgrading of any hospital as a result of this expanded role.
“This decision has been made because of the need for greater integration of services for better and safer patient care, and to provide additional support to both hospitals. Full engagement will take place with all the stakeholders on this issue.”