Closure of St Francis’ home another stage in Minister Harney’s ‘journey towards public service devastation’ claims activist

A local community activist has slammed the closure of St Francis Public Nursing Home in Upper Newcastle as a residential facility saying the decision represents another stage in what he terms Health Minister Mary Harney’s “long journey towards public service devastation”.

Derrick Hambleton claims the HSE is anxious to divest itself of responsibility for running nursing homes altogether which is “another step towards total privatisation”.

“ How long before St Brendans in Loughrea and Arus Ronan, on the Aran Islands also close?”

The HSE West’s announcement that it is to close St Francis’ as a residential facility and instead operate it as a daycare centre hit the headlines last week and attracted widespread criticism from local politicians. Many said it would be a huge loss to the city with Labour city councillor Billy Cameron describing the 33-year-old nursing home which caters for 28 residents as the “jewel in the crown” of nursing units for the excellent standard of care it delivered. Local Fine Gael senator Fidelma Healy Eames said the decision “stinks” and she feared plans to operate it as a daycare centre were really a decision to close the facility by stealth. The HSE stated it will remain a long-stay centre until current resident numbers reduce to 10 to 15.

However Kingston resident Mr Hambleton is worried about the repercussions of the HSE’s decision, saying it will put increasing financial pressure on already overburdened families who may now have to enlist the services of private companies to look after their elderly relatives in their own homes.

He is concerned also that the public are not making their voices heard, not shouting “stop” as the health cuts continue. He says recent public demonstrations highlighting this slashing of services failed to attract large numbers.

“Judging by the paltry public response to the health crisis in Galway, a mere few hundreds gave support for the recent ‘health marches’. Whereas thousands turned out in Roscommon, Ballinasloe, Ennis, Mallow, Navan and in many other places where hospital services are under threat of closure. St Francis’ destiny is already sealed, a fait accompli. What is wrong in Galway, the capital of the west, when only a few hundred have so far bothered to march. Do people care?”

He warns hospital waiting lists will swell further as more people opt for public healthcare due to dwindling finances.

“Due to the crash in the economy the number of people now covered by private health insurance is continuing to fall. A reduction of 10,000 for the past three months alone has been reported - 47,000 over the past 18 months.

“Therefore, many more lower paid people will come to depend on a public system which will no longer be there to help them. What then for our Minister for Stealth?”

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