‘Time running out’ on hospital warns Fine Gael

Pauline Scott The need for the people of Roscommon to fight to retain their hospital was highlighted at a public meeting on the health services organised by Fine Gael in the Abbey Hotel, Roscommon last Thursday night. The meeting began with an address from guest speaker, Dr. James O’Reilly, the Fine Gael spokesperson on health. His address was followed by a lively discussion from the floor, where participants included Fine Gael and HAC politicians, interested community observers and staff, both past and present, from Roscommon and Portiuncula hospitals. A number of speakers at the meeting berated the newly-appointed Minister of State Michael Finneran TD for not attending the meeting. Speaking of the ineptitude of the HSE, one member of the audience asked, ‘How much more of this carry-on will the people have to endure before the Oireachtas does something? How much worse does it have to get?’ One woman spoke of the life-saving treatment for encephalitis which her daughter received at Roscommon County Hospital and pledged to continue to fight for the hospital until the gate is closed. Asked how the current situation could be changed, Dr. O’Reilly said that the only way to change it is through a change of Government. He added that the situation could be changed if either the Minister for Health or the Taoiseach decided so, but pointed out that it is unlikely that Minister Harney will change her mind on the subject. The need for a business ethos as opposed to an administrative ethos at the top of the health service, was pointed to by one woman, who said that Professor Drumm hasn’t a clue about business. Dr. Charles Byrne, a psychiatrist at Roscommon County Hospital, told guests, ‘At the moment the hospital is going through death by a thousand cuts. The HSE can be very devious. They say they’re only affecting one part of the hospital, surgery, but they said that in Monaghan and then they focused on the A&E. If we want to see what is going to happen to us, we just have to look at Monaghan.’ The need for local people to use Roscommon Hospital was pointed to by Hospital Action Committee councillor Paula McNamara. ‘We have to lay a certain amount of blame on the people that do not come in and support the hospital,’ said Cllr. McNamara. ‘The public is going elsewhere and are not supporting our surgeons and when the hospital is gone they will be crying.’ The difficulty experienced by people in getting to Galway, or finding parking in the vicinity of UCHG was also discussed by guests at the meeting. The political element of the meeting was underlined by the fact that many speakers on the floor spoke of the need to punish the government parties for mismanagement in health at next year’s local elections. The first consultant’s contract for the new joint department of surgery will be signed in July and Dr. O’Reilly told guests that they only have a few weeks to change the decision on Roscommon. Cllr. Tony Ward, a member of the HSE West Forum, pointed out that nobody had made reference to the Hanly Report, which is the root of the entire problem. He said it set out what would happen to Roscommon County Hospital and 22 other hospitals around the country. ‘That Hanly Report was adopted by both Houses of the Oireachtas,’ said Cllr. Ward. He noted that the provisions for Portiuncula include eight extra beds for the people of County Roscommon and one emergency bed for the people of County Roscommon. Speaking of the meeting to take place between Professor Brendan Drumm of the HSE and consultants at the hospital, Liam McMullen, a surgeon at Roscommon County Hospital, said that the meeting was pointless because the decision has already been taken and the consultants will merely be the last people to talk to Drumm. He said that the decision to cut in-patient surgery at the hospital was taken last December following three meetings with consultants. After the solution put forward by consultants was shot down, the consultants went public in advance of the general election, but the same Government was returned. ‘This is too late, the decision is done and gone, I’m sorry,’ said Mr. McMullen. HAC councillor Valerie Byrne said that the only person who can change the decision now is Taoiseach Brian Cowen and she called on Mr. Cowen to come to Roscommon and face the people and also called on Minister Michael Finneran to bring Mr. Cowen to Roscommon. Dr. Barton from Portiuncula Hospital pointed out that Portiuncula Hospital is coming under more and more pressure, but under HSE plans, small hospitals such as Portiuncula will close. At the close of the meeting, Deputy Denis Naughten pledged to continue the fight, ‘I will continue to fight and do everything that I can to ensure that this is overturned, but it takes the direct influence of the Taoiseach to get this decision overturned before the die is finally cast next month.’ His pledge was supported by Deputy Frank Feighan, who said that political intervention is needed if the decision is to be changed.