Just under 100 people a day are being treated in the accident and emergency unit of the regional hospital in Mullingar, more than are treated in either Tullamore or Portlaoise, it was revealed at the first meeting of the new county council in Mullingar last week (September 7 ).
However, “nobody was available” to discuss the status of the now infamous 2B wing at the moment.
These details came to light after Cllrs Mick Dollard (Lab ), Peter Burke (FG ) and Aidan Davitt (FF ) gave their report on local HSE matters after their recent meeting with four senior staff from the hospital, whose annual budget was down four per cent on 2008.
In maternity matters, the hospital now provides for seven counties and there are plans to make Mullingar the largest maternity unit outside Dublin.
There were just over 3,000 births, approximately one baby every three hours, in 2008, a figure which was up 14 per cent on 2007.
Cllr Dollard was able to reassure the council that there are no plans to close 60 beds as recently rumoured.
However, with a recent overspend of €1m, the hospital authorities did have to suspend the use of 16 medical beds for the rest of the fiscal year, which now reduced the number from 42 to 26 at the hospital.
The delegation could not say whether this closure was permanent or not.
A silver lining to these closures meant that management could now allow overstretched nursing staff to take holidays.
The sexual assault unit at the hospital covers a dozen midland counties and is able to use some of the closed beds.
Cllr Dollard pointed out that the figure of 100 a day at A&E was artifically enlarged by new safety policies at St Loman’s, which required anyone showing up at the Delvin Road facility with signs of substance abuse or alcoholism, present themselves first to the casualty unit.
Cllr Peter Burke believes the focus on debt at the hospital must change.
“There are two fundamental things that can help the management of the hospital,” he said.
“The funding methods are out of date. They should be based on activity-based medicine.”
He gave the example of Naas hospital which has10,000 fewer patients per annum than Mullingar but still gets more money.
“The second thing that could help, hospitals are not allowed factor in depreciation, as is normal practice with businesses, and this could help with its budget.”
Cllr Burke couldn’t help getting in a little party political dig.
“It would help if we had Ministerial help but we haven’t,” he sniped.
However, in what he described as a “very positive development”, he told the chamber the management delegation they met had suggested “they’d like a number of meetings each year” to keep the air clear.