A WAR of words has erupted between the Health Service Executive (HSE) and Deputy Pat Breen over claims about the adverse impact of the centralisation of acute hospital services in the Mid-West region.
Deputy Breen claimed confidence is being eroded in Ennis hospital because of the slow pace at which developments are being delivered to the facility.
The HSE described Deputy Breen’s statement as a “compendium of various allegations, all well covered in the past and all painstakingly rebutted by the HSE, as readers of The Clare Champion over the past two years can attest”.
Deputy Breen expressed doubts about the ability of the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, Limerick to cope with the extra demands being placed on the facility following the withdrawal of night-time A&E services in Nenagh and Ennis last April.
Expressing concern about the escalation of the work-to-rule by nurses at the Limerick hospital in response to overcrowding, Deputy Breen noted no additional beds had been made available in Dooradoyle and that there was no critical care unit or improved diagnostic services.
“What was the point of removing services from our local hospitals when the so-called centre of excellence in Limerick was not provided with additional resources? No hospital can cope with extra pressure if they have only limited resources,” he said.
The National HSE Service Plan for 2010 has flagged the closure of 1,100 acute beds, which Deputy Breen argued would have further negative implications for hospitals in the region.
“According to figures released by the HSE earlier this month, there were 10,000 patients less attending Ennis and Nenagh hospitals between January 2009 to October 2009, compared to the same period in 2008.
“Those same figures also revealed that the number of cases presenting at Ennis hospital was 26% lower than the previous year; 10,687 A&E cases compared to 14,435 the previous year, and the number of cases presenting at Nenagh hospital did not make such a dramatic drop.
His comments came after members of the INMO and SIPTU decided to step up their industrial action on Tuesday. This included non-pushing of hospital trolleys; non-declaration of ward bed status unless a bed is vacated by an in-patient and non-cooperation with CSARS and Winter Initiative Forms in addition to other measures. All patients are still be accompanied by a nurse as necessary.
The HSE argued that the changes in hospital services were publicised in the local and national media, replies to parliamentary questions, notices at Ennis hospital and a mail drop to over 20,000 houses in Clare.
“Engagement with all the interest groups was extensive. Some GPs were initially opposed to the changes but the consensus of medical opinion to date is that they are working and giving an improved service to patients.
“If public confidence is being eroded, then local politicians have a role to play and we are happy to provide any support or information,” the HSE stated.
The organisation pointed out a number of actions introduced by management in Limerick hospital on December 2 resulted in a reduction of 54% in the numbers waiting for admission. The overall increase in accident and emergency activity since the changes introduced last April is 0.6%, or 32 patients per month.
“The choice facing the nursing unions is whether they wish to take part in our attempts to improve life for our patients or to allow the sickest patients to lie on trolleys while delays occur in the discharge process,” a hospital spokesperson said.
The authority pointed out the “reconfiguration” programme had secured additional funding of over €6 million and 70 extra jobs for the people in the region.
As part of this, a total of 15 extra beds are being provided in Dooradoyle and another 15 in St John’s Hospital while the authority has secured approval to go to contract on the critical care block.
It noted the Ennis hospital budget has gone from €10 million to €23 million and staff numbers increased from 218 to 284 over a 10-year period.