“All we want for Christmas are assurances on our hospital and our A&E, that would be the best Christmas present ever for the people of Laois,” Cllr Noel Tuohy said this week in an impassioned appeal. His seasonal sentiments were unanimously supported by colleagues of all political persuasions.
The Portlaoise councillor was speaking on a motion he had put before the second last Council meeting of the year, calling on the Minister for Health to remove the uncertainty, doubt and fears of a downgrade from Portlaoise General Hospital once and for all.
Cllr Tuohy went one step further by calling on all political parties and their health spokespersons to do likewise and to ensure that the A&E department in Portlaoise remained fully resourced as a24/7 service. The alternative being mooted for an 8am to 8pm minor injuries unit was entirely unacceptable he insisted.
The motion before Laois County Council received he unanimous support of the other members and coincides with the second anniversary of the candlelit vigil organised by the Portlaoise Hospital Action Committee on December 2, 2017, in opposition to the ongoing threat of a downgrade to Portlaoise and in particular it’s A&E.
The call for definitive clarity on the vexed and long running saga as to the Hospital’s status is timely as it is anticipated the Minister for Health, Simon Harris is to visit Portlaoise, on the invitation of his colleague and local Minister, Charlie Flanagan in the run up to Christmas.
The hospital issue is also likely to dominate the debate in the constituency in the run in to the general election next year if it is not otherwise resolved.
“The Hospital is the main reason I got involved in politics and it still is,” outlined Cllr Tuohy.
“It is two years ago this coming week, December 2 since the people of Laois turned out in their thousands for the ‘Light for Life’ Candlelit Vigil in support of the Hospital. One year on they are none the wiser and doubts and a possible downgrade still hang over the Hospital.
“There could be no better Christmas present for the people of Laois than an unequivocal statement from the Minister for Health and government that Portlaoise Hospital will not be downgraded; that it’s 24/7 A&E will be retained and resourced and that the Dr Susan O’ Reilly downgrade plan has been rejected,” stated Cllr Tuohy.
“We will not accept anything less. We will not accept a downgrade to an 8am to 8pm minor accident unit that simply won’t work,” he maintained.
Cllr Tuohy continued: “We know it won’t work because there is no capacity in the hospitals within our Group to cater for their own demand much less to take on additional patients. Even though the winter season is only commencing and the flu outbreak yet to occur there is already chronic overcrowding, queues at A&E’s and record numbers of trolleys in corridors in our hospitals as highlighted on a daily basis by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
“This situation is at its worst and the queues are longest, the delays most serious and the numbers of trolleys on corridors at their highest in the country at Limerick Regional Hospital and the reason is simple.
“The HSE closed the A&E units in the hospitals in both Nenagh and Ennis and promised to deliver a more efficient and safer service in Limerick General Hospital, but they did not. The service got worse, the queues got longer and they have not resourced Limerick sufficiently and cannot recruit the staff to do so.
“The same will happen here in Portlaoise and we will not stand for it to send sick children, our senior citizens and those unfortunate enough to be in an accident on to Tallaght, to get in line and hope for the best.
“The Portlaoise Hospital Action Committee have done a great job in maintaining vigilance on this issue but our concerns prevail and we do not trust the HSE management and what stunt they might pull yet,” he contended.
Cllr Caroline Dwane-Stanley seconded the motion and asserted that the time had long elapsed and it was well overdue for a clear announcement on the future of Portlaoise Hospital.
“It has gone on for far too long and is causing undue anxiety, worry and stress. The staff in Portlaoise are brilliant and are second to none. We’ve stacked up all the arguments in favour of the Hospital time and time again to this Minister and to the Health Minister before him, which was the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. The hospital serves a massive population catchment and we don’t want it becoming a political football again in the next election,” said Cllr Dwane.
“We all agree with those sentiments and that motion, so we’ll write to the Minister and let’s see what happens,” conclude the Chairman, Cllr Willie Aird.