Healthcare reforms to give ‘greater autonomy to UHG/Merlin Park’

Better services, the development of smaller, more specialised hospitals, and greater autonomy for UHG/Merlin Park will flow from the “radical restructuring” of the healthcare service announced this week.

This is the view of Fine Gael Galway senator Fidelma Healy Eames, who has welcomed yesterday’s announcement by the Minister for Health James Reilly to reorganise the State’s hospitals into regional groups with the treatment of serious cases removed from smaller hospitals.

Under the plan, the Hospital Groups and the Small Hospital Framework which has been approved by Cabinet, UHG/Merlin Park, Portiuncula, Sligo Regional, Letterkenny, Mayo General and Roscommon are to form the West/North West Hospital Group.

Sen Healy Eames has called the restructuring “the most radical of the Irish healthcare service in the history of the State”.

However the plans have resulted in concern among many members of the public that the restructuring will lead to the downgrading of hospitals and the services they offer, and that this is largely an exercise in cutting costs and frontline services.

Sen Healy Eames, though, argues that the plan seeks to bring about the transfer of some services from the larger hospitals to the smaller ones, thereby “giving them the opportunity to develop to their full potential”.

She also said hospitals will work together as part of a Hospital Group with UHG/Merlin Park part of the West/North West Hospital Group.

“Each hospital in the group will play a significant role in the provision of services,” she said. “The grouping of these hospitals will enable each to specialise in certain procedures and should result in reductions in waiting lists and the number of people on trolleys.”

As evidence, the senator said that since the establishment of the pilot Galway/Roscommon grouping, waiting lists of more than nine months for inpatient and daycase procedures “were eliminated in each of the hospitals by the end of 2012”.

She also said the number of patients counted on trolleys fell by 37 per cent last year, substantially larger than the national reduction of 23 per cent.

Sen Healy Eames also said that in future, staff will be recruited to the West/North West hospital group rather than to an individual hospital.

“The increased flexibility of staff will enable a reduction in the hours that junior doctors work,” she said, “which will improve patient safety at Galway Hospitals.”

The restructuring has also been welcomed by Labour Galway West TD Derek Nolan, saying hospitals across the State will “follow Galway’s example by working as part of a larger overall group”.

Although he acknowledged there are still “considerable challenges ahead for the health service in Galway”, he beleives the new grouping format “allows for the best use of resources for the benefit of all patients” and “boost the status” of NUI Galway as a medical educational hub for the west.

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