Minister insists Louth Hospital will not close

MINISTER for Health Dr James Reilly has dismissed fears over the future of the Louth County Hospital insisting that it was “very secure.”

MINISTER for Health Dr James Reilly has dismissed fears over the future of the Louth County Hospital insisting that it was “very secure.”

Speculation over the future of the hospital has been rife for years but speculation over its future grew recently when a HSE draft report was leaked to the Irish Times suggesting that the hospital had been considered for closure.

However, speaking to LMFM’S Michael Reade in Leinster House last week, Minister Reilly insisted there was “no risk” of the hospital closing and said its “future is secure.”

Dr Reilly made his remarks after meeting with a newly formed hospital committee, put together by Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick. The new committee included Carlingford-based GP Dr Bart Cullen, general nurse Louise Weinberg and Liam Oliver of the IFA.

Following the meeting, Minister Reilly moved to lay fears over the hospital’s future.

He said: “I’m very happy to say to the people of Louth that the Dundalk hospital has a very secure future.

“Even in the last while, if I can compare some of the activities that were going on there, there was very little care of the elderly or no cases in 2009. It rose to 162 in 2010 and there are 388 cases so far in 2011. The treatment of people with haemochromatosis has risen from 535 cases in 2009 to 1,783 expected at the end of this year and in relation to colposcopy, none were done in 2009 and there were 3,083 done last year.

“Surgery has gone from 3,416 cases to 3,659 last year. Radiology was 534 examinations and that has gone up to 1,519 and I expect it to reach over 3,000 this year and outpatient sessions have gone from 933 to 974 last year.

“So if I was to put it this way, in terms of activity at the hospital the emergency department was seeing around 400 cases a week and the Minor Injury Unit is now seeing around 350 cases a week so there’s been a drop of around 50 cases a week in terms of footfall at the hospital but there’s been a massive increase in the amount of activity in the outpatients and I’m very happy to say that the Louth County Hospital has been chosen as one of the new colonoscopy screening services so the number of endoscopies being carried out will double next year.”

Minister Reilly reiterated that the hospital was not at risk and, in fact, announced that cataract surgery was due to start there later this year.

“There is no further risk to the Minor Injuries Unit in Dundalk and there’s no intention to reduce that whatsoever. I’m reluctant to say that there won’t be any reduction in any service because some services might be reduced while others will be increased and I want to leave myself that flexibility because I don’t want to be accused of misleading people.

“Can I say furthermore that we’ve really good news that cataract surgery is going to start in the fourth quarter of this year and it is hoped that more than 1,000 cases will be done in the following 12 months.

“More and more stuff is coming to the smaller hospitals and that fits precisely with what the Fine Gael policy has been in terms of supporting smaller hospitals and, in particular, with the principle which I’ve adhered to which is treating the patient at the lowest level of complexity that is safe, timely, efficient and is as near as home as possible.

“I see very little value and I can’t understand why we’ve had a scenario where people are going to large hospitals like Our Lady of Lourdes and Beaumont and the Mater for hernia repairs, varacose veins, for gall bladders and various other conditions that could be treated in the likes of Louth Hospital. That’s where we want them treated because the analogy I draw is it’s a bit akin to taking your 10 year old Volkswagen to the Ferrari testing centre. Sure, they’ll do a good job but your local garage will do every bit as good a job.”

The Minister also said that the hospital had been removed from HIQA’s watch list.

“I’ve very happy to say that the Louth Hospital was on the list and it’s not on the list any more. All the risks have been addressed and HIQA are quite happy with the Louth Hospital.

“It’s at no risk and its future is secure,” he said.