Portiuncula’s emergency department at risk of cuts

Ballinasloe Fine Gael councillor and HSE forum member Michael Mullins.

Ballinasloe Fine Gael councillor and HSE forum member Michael Mullins.

If Portiuncula Hospital’s emergency department has its opening hours scaled down then University Hospital Galway which is already “bursting at the seams” will be forced to deal with the overflow.

That’s the warning from former mayor and chairperson of the HSE West’s Regional Health Forum Cllr Padraig Conneely amid mounting concern that the Ballinasloe hospital’s A&E may be singled out because of a shortage of junior doctors.

Emergency units at a number of hospitals throughout the country may be targeted as part of a HSE contingency plan to deal with a shortage of these non-consultant hospital doctors. This results from more of them going abroad for training as well as the fact that doctors from non-EU countries now have to renew their visas more often which puts some off working here.

Cllr Conneely says if the opening hours at Portiuncula Hospital’s emergency department are reduced this will add to the “chaos” at UHG.

“This will result in a further crisis down the line. UHG is already bursting at the seams. There has been a reduction in beds and nursing staff, positions are unfilled. Foreign junior doctors are getting visas for six months which means they are only here when they have to renew them again if they want to stay longer. Our hospitals are hugely dependent on overseas junior doctors in A&Es. Now with the six month visa restriction this is having a major impact on the medical profession providing frontline services. Why are junior doctors who are at the coalface of medicine being targeted?

“2010 was terrible so far here in terms of bed closures and financial cutbacks. Every section of health was affected. In England they seem to have excluded health from massive cuts. Essential services should not be hit.”

Ballinasloe Fine Gael councillor and HSE forum member Michael Mullins says the local community will “fight desperately” to retain full services at Portiuncula Hospital.

“I understand it will be June before we know for certain if Portiuncula will be affected. Under no circumstances do we want to see this hospital lose any of its services. It has a very fine and busy A&E with a huge hinterland that includes Co Galway, Athlone, parts of Tipperary and Offaly. The emergency department is brand new, it was only opened a few months ago by the Minister for Health and she assured us it was not being downgraded.There is great determination among the local community, 10,000 people took to the streets recently to protest at any possible downgrading of the hospital or loss of any part of its services.”

A spokesperson for the HSE said it was too early to say which hospitals and what parts of the country might be affected.

“We are aware there is a shortage of NCHDs [junior doctors]. The expectation would be, come July 1, we may see a further reduction and obviously there would be consequences of that. Yes, some services may need to be reconfigured, but it is too early to speculate.”

The statement outlined that patient safety is of “paramount concern” to the health authority across the hospital system.

“The HSE is fully aware of the staffing situations in hospital emergency departments (EDs ) in some parts of the country. A recruitment drive for a new intake of Non Consultant Hospital Doctors is under way and a number of other initiatives are being considered to specifically address the situation to ensure that hospital EDs continue to offer a high level of care to all patients. The HSE is working closely with individual hospitals to address their needs in this area. The HSE is putting in place a number of processes to address the issues presenting on a short, medium and long-term basis.”

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