Thousands of private patients will have to travel to Limerick or Galway for day procedures and consultations with the closure of the surgical unit at Cahercalla Community Hospital from May 1.
Catering for up to 2,500 day surgical admissions and 5,000 consultations annually, the unit, which has signicantly reduced waiting times for patients for almost 15 years, is no longer deemed viable. The ending of this service also places a question mark over the future of 11 employees.
Describing the closure as “catastrophic”, HSE West Forum member, Councillor Brian Meaney, said it is another major blow for health services in the county.
“Its closure is a significant loss in the options available to Clare people to have their health issues dealt with locally. The availability of medical and surgical services at the facility where many Clare people were born, reduced the stress many people encounter when they have health concerns,” he stated.
“This also sends out a distress signal for the town of Ennis that should set alarm bells ringing. The closure of this private service represents the loss of another commercial activity in Ennis town.
“There are proposals to develop a private hospital in Ennis and I have to ask, does this indicate a town like Ennis cannot sustain such a venture, or does it create an opportunity? The closure of the surgical facility in Cahercalla draws in to sharp focus the vitality of the county town,” he added.
In a statement, the board said it “regretted” its decision to close the unit and acknowledged the loss of this service is “disappointing”. However, it confirmed the nursing home and hospice sections of the facility are thriving, following the recent refurbishment of facilities and it is hoped that the surgical unit may be re-configured in the future to provide further accommodation to meet growing demand for long-term care.
According to the board, a number of contributory factors, including the changing healthcare environment, which has made the recruitment of consultants difficult, means it is no longer feasible to provide surgical services at the hospital. The increased supply of similar services in Limerick and Galway and a decline in the number of people with private health insurance were two other key considerations.
This decision came after several months of consultation, with efforts made by all involved in an attempt to retain the service.
“Theboard is very mindful of the impact this decision will have on the 11 people employed within the service and are committed to doing everything that can be done to support them over the coming weeks, including providing alternative employment within the hospital where possible.
“Patients with surgical and outpatient appointments are assured that these will be honoured and Cahercalla Community Hospital and Hospice is committed to continuing to deliver high-quality, safe care to its residents and patients,” the board added.
News of the closure comes hot on the heels of a €3.5 million investment in elderly care recently, which brought the 111-bed facility up to HIQA regulatory standards. Based on a community model, Cahercalla Nursing Home, which employs 130 people, has been a hugely significant facility and service to people and families throughout Clare.
The surgical unit operates under the Cahercalla umbrella but it is a separate and distinct unit from the nursing home and hospice.