Parents of children who are patients at University Hospital Galway are concerned over the reduced opening hours of the playroom at the paediatric unit.
They say a notice erected on the door on Tuesday of last week stated the facility would remain closed for safety reasons due to a lack of supervision.
Cllr Niall McNelis said he has been contacted by a number of worried parents and he is “fuming” over the issue.
“As a public representative and parent it is very important that there is a playroom in a children’s ward,” he outlines.
“I was contacted by concerned parents who said there was a notice on the playroom door on Tuesday last saying it would remain closed for safety reasons while there was no supervision. I understand volunteers from [the children’s charity] Children in Hospital Ireland - about 14 of them - run the service. The playroom can only be open if they are there.”
He said the facility was closed last Wednesday and he is concerned about its future. “It was open for a couple of hours on Tuesday and from talking to some parents it seems to be open on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. On Wednesday it was closed because there were no volunteers.”
He explained that the play specialist co-ordinator who ran the service previously left the position two years ago and the post has not been filled since.
He stated if the closure was due to a staff shortage resulting from the national recruitment embargo then this ban should be lifted.
“A volunteer group has been running this service for the last two years. A meeting was held privately by staff and doctors and they felt that by closing it when there were no volunteers the area would be safer. Otherwise they would be liable.”
The Labour councillor went on to say that many of the volunteers were students who are now preparing for examinations.
“What is needed is a fulltime play specialist co-ordinator. There is a need too for more volunteers, the student ones are thin on the ground now.
“This is a management decision and it is really important to get the issue rectified. Management better get its act together and sort it out. I will be contacting all the public representatives across all parties to see what can be done. It is important that this situation is immediately rectified, that there is pressure put on the minister to fill the post. I’m also calling on the business community to support the volunteers up there.
“Children should not suffer because of the cuts. They get the best treatment in the hospital but it is important for them to play. It is very scary for young children to go into hospital and they need play facilities.”
A spokesperson for the HSE West said in a statement that the playroom at the paediatric unit is open from 10am until noon on weekdays.
“During this time there is a volunteer from Children in Hospital Ireland present to supervise play. There hasn’t been a permanent play therapist at UHG in over a year since the previous post holder retired. It is necessary to get an exemption from the public sector recruitment moratorium in order to recruit a replacement for this post and this has not been possible to date.”