A local politician is urging the HSE West to openly discuss its cost-cutting proposals with the public before they are set in stone.
Fine Gael TD Paul Connaughton says feelings are running high about how the local health authority is going to wield its axe as it examines ways of making substantial savings to address a €91 million budget deficit by the end of the year.
The closure of 12 health centres and the scaling down of elective surgery from seven days to five in three wards - two at UHG and one at Merlin Park Hospital - are believed to be among the health authority’s mone-saving proposals.
Some sources say hip replacement operations will no longer be carried out at Merlin Park Hospital.
“I’m urging the HSE to come out openly and discuss their proposals,” says Deputy Connaughton. “The big news from a recent meeting we [politicians] had with the HSE was that they are committing their reconfiguration plans for the four hospitals - University Hospital Galway, Merlin Park, Portiuncula and Roscommon - to paper. This is being done over eight weeks.
“Now is the time for them to reveal their principle guidelines, not later when their plan is copperfastened, when it becomes their bible. I told Dr David O’Keeffe, the new manager of UHG and Portiuncula Hospitals, that anywhere there is a hall full of people he should explain what they [HSE] are doing. The worst thing they could do is spring a new set of proposals on an unsuspecting public. That way they would lose people’s trust.
“This is no small beer, this is big stuff. These health cuts are going to affect every single man, woman and child in the west.”
He says if the HSE goes ahead with plans to take €7 million out of Portiuncula Hospital’s budget this will take the “spine” out of the 197-bed Ballinasloe facility.
“We understand there have to be efficiencies. However, it is not physically possible in a smallish hospital like Ballinasloe to cut that deep by the end of the year.
“If they go for the full €7m, as they appear to be, I’d have serious reservations about some of the important services being reduced. When you see 10,000 people on the streets in Ballinasloe and 8,000 to 10,000 in Roscommon [demonstrating to save their local hospitals amid fears of downgrading] they were not there for fun.”
Meanwhile Cllr Catherine Connolly said the failure of any Fianna Fail politician to turn up last Saturday at the protest march from Merlin Park to Eyre Square against the proposed health cuts was “scandalous”.
“The failure of any FF TD, Minister or city councillor to march with the people last Saturday from Merlin Park Hospital to Eyre Square highlights in a most acute way the hypocrisy of the party.
“As a city councillor and member of the Health Forum Committee the stark nature of the figures in relation to wards closed, beds empty and significant waiting lists for almost every specialty in both Merlin Park and the regional hospital belie the groundless allegation by Minister O’Cuiv that myself and other people, including the consultants who have spoken out, are scare mongering.
“There are over 120 beds officially empty between Merlin Park and University Hospital. In relation to waiting lists, the official figures I have received from replies to questions tabled at the health Forum confirm that the public health service is under the most serious threat. Currently there are 24,306 patients waiting up to four years and more on the outpatient waiting list figure for every medical speciality for UHG. Among these specialities, the ear, nose and throat list has 4,752 patients, dermatology has 3,452 patients, vascular has 1,398 and opthalmology has 1,507. Merlin Park outpatient waiting list has 5,668 people on waiting lists for more than four years including 4,189 patients on the orthopaedics waiting list for more than four years.
“Furthermore, the official figures last December for Merlin Park itself were that Unit 3 was closed entirely, with 34 beds, and Hospital 2 was closed entirely, with 27 beds. The situation has further deteriorated now with additional units closed. Yet while the beds remain empty and the wards/units closed 6,862 patients wait for up to two years for a bed and treatment.”
The “Galway Says No to Health Cuts” group says there was a “very positive” response to the Merlin Park Hospital consultants’ appeal for people to march from the hospital to Eyre Square last Saturday to highlight the crisis in the public health service, and the “attacks” on Merlin Park Hospital, in particular.
“Supported by the Galway says NO to Health Cuts campaign, up to 600 people walked the three miles despite the abysmal weather,” says group spokesperson Dette McLoughlin.
“Hundreds of attendees signed the campaign petition to the Irish government objecting to the cut-backs in public hospitals and healthcare services. Chairperson of Fine Gael, TD Padraic McCormack, and TD Noel Grealish, former PD and current supporter of the FF/Green/Harney government, both added their signatures to the petition that concludes, ‘We refuse to accept that the welfare of bankers and bondholders should come before our health care, in Galway and elsewhere.’
“Many people, eager for the Galway movement against health cuts to grow took away fliers and posters to advertise and build for the Galway Says NO to Health Cuts protest to be held on Saturday 25 September, assembling at 2pm at Galway Cathedral, and then marching slowly the short distance to University Hospital Galway for a rally.
There speakers from the health-workers, patients, and community will give a short address on the crisis affecting our public health service, a service that we desperately need to protect and to meet the needs of our sick and elderly.”
The group is accusing the HSE West of mismanaging the already underfunded budget it receives. “There is absolute wastage on the rental of unnecessary buildings.
There are now 10 buildings owned by the HSE west in Galway city and county lying idle, meanwhile the HSE rents 70 buildings at an enormous cost.”