Speculation is mounting that maternity services at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe may be under threat as part of a new rationalisation plan being considered by the HSE West.
Fianna Fail local election candidate for the area, Donal Burke, claims he has a confidential HSE document in his possession which indicates the health authority is considering axing this service at the Ballinasloe facility.
If this goes ahead expectant mothers will have to travel to Galway city to attend an obstetrician and give birth, he says.
Mr Burke is “outraged” by the document, which he claims states the HSE is strongly considering the proposal after the local elections in less than two weeks.
However, the HSE West states that “no service reconfiguration options” have been recommended or approved by the board of the West/North West Hospitals Group and that speculation at this stage is “unhelpful” and “upsetting” for staff and patients.
But the FF candidate insists that plans to “shut down the maternity unit” are at an advanced stage.
Donal Burke believes the HSE is waiting for the local elections to be held before officially announcing this “cynical and sneaky move”.
“This is a sad reflection of the secret way this Government has gone about its business since it came to office,” he says. “It is a shocking development and one which I will vehemently oppose. Downgrading maternity services with a view to shutting the maternity unit at Portiuncula Hospital represents another blatant attack by the Government on health services in Galway and the west.
“Announcements are made at the last minute to limit the damage caused while the stakeholders involved and affected are not consulted in this process. Ballinasloe badly needs to retain the maternity services at Portiuncula Hospital.”
He believes closing down the service would have widespread repercussions for the area.
“Expectant mothers will now be forced to travel to Galway city to see an obstetrician. Many will have made plans to attend Portiuncula and are familiar with staff and the obstetrician at the hospital. They are now being left in limbo for two weeks while the Government waits for the elections to be over to make the announcement.
“This is completely unfair on expectant mothers and their families and it makes a mockery of the Government’s pledge before the last election to be open and transparent in all its decisions.”
Tony Canavan, the chief operating officer for the West/ North West Hospitals Group, says “to be absolutely clear” no services reconfiguration options have been recommended to or approved by the Board of the West/North West Hospitals Group or by the senior management of the group.
“Feasibility studies have not even been carried out and, as stated previously, speculation at this early stage in the process is unhelpful and upsetting for patients and staff.
“As part of the stakeholder consultation with existing maternity hospital staff across the West/North West Hospitals Group that was agreed at the group’s February board meeting, Dr Geraldine Gaffney, clinical director of the group’s women’s and children’s directorate, met with maternity staff at Portiuncula Hospital on Friday 9 May. Dr Gaffney was accompanied by Ms Deirdre Foley Woods of The Health Partnership, a specialist independent healthcare consultancy that has been retained by the West/North West Hospitals Group to help with the maternity services review. It was made very clear at that meeting that no decision has been made about the reconfiguration of services and staff were clearly advised that there are no planned closures of maternity services.”
Mr Canavan says staff were also advised that the West/North West Hospitals Group will draw up a public engagement strategy to determine the level of support for midwifery led care in conjunction with existing obstetric services. A director of midwifery services, who will be appointed during the summer, will be responsible for co-ordinating this public engagement strategy.
When complete, the review of maternity services for the West/North West Hospitals Group will be considered as part of the broader national review of maternity services (as per the HIQA recommendations ), which will be led by the Department of Health with input from the HSE.