A meeting held between HSE management and concerned local politicians to help allay mounting public fears that Portiuncula Hospital may be downgraded was positive but much still needs to be done to put people’s minds at rest.
That’s according to Mountbellew Fine Gael TD Paul Connaughton who is urging the public to monitor the movements of the local health authority in the wake of its controversial decision to expand the role of general manager of UHG to include responsibility for both Ballinasloe and Roscommon hospitals.
“There is a huge need to stand back and look at every move being made by the HSE, to make sure that their intentions are pure. That has to be our mantra.
“All this major change of procedure, etc, must be documented, there is a fear of the unknown, people think the HSE are making it up as they are going along. We said the nearest thing to a secret society we can find is the HSE. It can’t convey what is happening to the public or its staff. Management said it plans to hold a number of meetings like this.
“People believe it is worth fighting for the future of Portiuncula, there are still fears it will be downgraded. People will only believe it won’t when they still see the services still there.”
Deputy Connaughton says the recent demonstration against any moves to downgrade the hospital, which attracted 5,000 people, showed the intensity of people’s feelings.
“People are terribly afraid that because the new manager will be based in Galway [city] that Ballinasloe and Roscommon will be seen as outposts. The HSE did not accept this though and said each hospital would have its own budget and no hospital would work in isolation, they would be synchronised.
“The big thing that is hugely in favour of Portiuncula is its maternity unit. It is the jewel in the crown, I think 2,000 babies a year are born there. It is a very state-of-the-art facility. We accept certain procedures will be carried out at UHG, Portiuncula won’t ever perform open heart surgery, it’s not its scene. Specialisation would always, and rightly so, be in Galway. I believe so many things could be taken out of Galway [UHG] and sent to Ballinasloe.”
If ever a town’s economy was largely dependent on one employment provider it is this Ballinasloe hospital, he insists.
“Any move to reduce its activities which would in turn reduce staff numbers would be a catastrophe for the town and its hinterland. “The total number of jobs at all levels at Portiuncula stands at 677 as from the 31 January 2010. When account is taken of the massive off campus employment that the hospital creates such as suppliers of bread to bed linen and everything in between it is easy to see that well over 1,000 people directly or indirectly get a monetary return every week by virtue of this hospital’s presence in Ballinasloe.
“The closed factories, such as AT Cross and Square D, in their heyday didn’t employ any more than Portiuncula does now which clearly shows just how important the hospital is for the livelihoods of so many people. When account is taken of the primary purpose of this modern general hospital which is to provide health care and maternity services at the highest professional level for thousands of patients every year from an area covering five adjoining counties it is easy to see why any shadow that cast doubt on the future of this hospital would be of serious concern to thousands of people.”