SAVE Our Hospital Services committee chairman Cllr Tomás Sharkey insists he is taking Minister for Health James Reilly’s recent declaration that the Louth County Hospital will not be closed with a pinch of salt.
The Health Minister made the commitment to a newly formed hospital committee, established by Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick, almost a fortnight ago at a meeting in Leinster House.
That gathering coincided with Cllr Sharkey receiving a HSE draft action plan document, marked “confidential”, that said that the closure of the Louth County Hospital “was discussed and deemed as not viable at this time.”
The cost containment proposals in the document, which was also reported on by the Irish Times newspaper, also made recommendations in relation to services at the hospital and Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda and Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan. Some of those recommendations contradict some of the commitments made by Minister Reilly and suggest that a new wave of cuts at the Dublin Road hospital may not be too far away.
Amongst the proposals considered in the draft action plan were reducing the Minor Injury Unit service in Dundalk to a 9-5 service with no weekend opening, the closure of 25 inpatient beds in Dundalk currently occupied by clinically discharged patients and the possible transfer of stroke/rehab beds to Navan.
The report also discussed the removal of the on call service at the Louth County Hospital and the remove of Laboratory Services. The HSE are also considering charging staff for parking and seeking expressions of interest from staff for unpaid leave.
The one possible benefit for Dundalk that was considered in the plan was the HSE’s proposal to investigate the feasibility of transferring surgery from Navan to the Louth County. That would contradict a commitment Minister Reilly made in relation to Our Lady’s Hospital though and Cllr Sharkey says the report is “worrying” for services as a whole in the North East.
Commenting on the draft document that was anonymously posted to his him, Cllr Sharkey said: “This proves that there is a whistleblower in the HSE who wants the people of this area to know what is really happening. It proves that these documents exist and they are on the table.
“There’s a draft document out there detailing the closure of the Louth County Hospital. It says it’s not viable at this time but that’s worrying and as a committee we’ve to find out what would make it viable to close the hospital.”
The Sinn Féin councillor said that the proposals in the draft action plan mean Minister Reilly’s recent commitments need to be taken with a large pinch of salt.
He said: “The commitee that met with him heard warm words of comfort that anybody who has been aware of health politics in Louth for the last 20 years would take with a pinch of salt.
“In fairness to him, the chances are that James Reilly is not even aware of these documents but they are in existence and the danger is that the HSE or HIQA could come up with a reason to implement them down the line.”
Cllr Sharkey insisted that the immediate danger for the hospital was seeing the number of beds being reduced from 43 to 18.
He said: “If they close the 25 beds mentioned in the report then they’ll not keep 24/7 cover at the hospital and the stroke rehab unit would be in jeopardy before it’s even reopened,” he said.