Michael Ring, TD, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, has said that Jim Daly TD, Minister for Mental Health and Older People, has confirmed to him in person, that there will be no downgrading of Belmullet District Hospital under his watch.
On Monday night there was a turnout of hundreds of people for a public meeting on the future of the hospital in the Talbot Hotel in Belmullet, which was organised by Sinn Féin Senator Rose Conway-Walsh.
Speaking on Wednesday, Minister Ring said: “Minister Daly has confirmed to me personally that there is no question of Belmullet Hospital being downgraded. At my invitation Minister Daly has committed to visiting the hospital on Tuesday, July 2 to personally assess the situation and to talk to patients and staff.
"Minister Daly has also confirmed to me that he has asked the HSE to provide him with the bed occupancy rates for the last 12 months. There is no question of beds being cut if they are being used. If the demand is there, the beds will be kept open and the staff will be allocated to staff the beds. However, as Minister Daly stated in Dáil Éireann today, he will not stand over staff being allocated to empty beds.
"I am confident that Minister Daly will look at all options and keep an open mind in order to ensure a positive resolution of this matter. I have worked closely with Councillor Gerry Coyle on this issue and we will continue to work with Minister Daly to ensure that Belmullet Hospital continues to provide an excellent service to the people of Erris."
Speaking in the Seanad this week Sinn Féin Senator Rose Conway Walsh said: "We had hundreds of people at a public meeting on Monday night around the hospital. The attempts that are being made there to get rid of agency staff and to not renew temporary contracts is deplorable. As one man put it - 'They promised us the birds in the sky, but they don't tell us we have to catch them ourselves.'
"Because this announcement came just within days of the local and European elections, and before in this hospital half of the beds were slashed under the Fianna Fáil government from 40 beds to 20 beds, and we are talking about an area that is bigger than the size of county Louth, and I know that Jim Daly is going to be visiting the hospital - I would like it to be confirmed who he is going to be meeting, because there are many people who are interested in meeting with him.
"I would appeal to Minister Daly, the nearest hospital to Belmullet is 50 miles away, we talk all the time about delivering healthcare near to the communities, as close as possible to the communities and we are doing the exact opposite in terms of the privatisation and centralisation of services and it has to stop. We can't have it both ways, we can't have the platitudes saying we believe in primary care and we believe in community care and then at the same time making the most vulnerable in society pay for the overruns and neglect of the health service."