Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has confirmed that there are no plans to downgrade Portlaoise Hospital’s A&E Department.
The Minister was questioned on the subject recently by Sinn Fein TD Brian Stanley.
A report signed by Dr Susan O’Reilly in October 2017 detailed plans to close the A&E and sparked mass protests.
Deputy Stanley asked Minister Donnelly what the current update on this is because ‘this is important for Laois and the surrounding counties’.
The Minister said: “I assure the Deputy that no plans have been presented to me and there has been no discussion with me about any considerations to downgrade any of the services currently in operation at the Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise, including the emergency department.
“Since 2014, the focus has been on supporting the hospital to develop and enhance management capability, implement change required to address clinical service issues and incorporate the hospital into the governance structures of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group.
“I am fully committed to ensuring that these efforts continue. The Deputy would agree that great progress has been made by the fantastic healthcare professionals we have working in Portlaoise hospital.
“The budget for Portlaoise hospital this year is over €71 million. The Deputy will be happy to hear that is an 11% increase on the 2019 figure and nearly a 60% increase on the 2012 figure.
“There has been a very significant increase in funding. Staffing levels are now at 824 whole-time equivalents. To give the Deputy a sense of it, that is a 50% increase on 2014.
“If we go back to 2014 and ask what has happened in the past eight years, we have seen a very significant increase in funding in hospital and a 50% increase in the workforce in the hospital.
“That is a really clear statement of intent from Government that this hospital is a priority and ongoing investment in the hospital will remain a priority.
“Furthermore, €20 million in capital investment is enabling the reconfiguration and extension of laboratory services and a new Respiratory Assessment Unit, and more besides is going on at the hospital.”
Deputy Stanley pushed the Minister to ‘say the magic words’ and guarantee that Portlaoise would never be downgraded.
He said: “I want the Minister to say the magic words that the future of the accident and emergency services are guaranteed in Portlaoise.
“I welcome all of the progress, but the concern is a possible downgrade. We see the situation in Limerick and what happens when emergency departments are closed, as happened in Ennis and Nenagh.
“The problem is pushed on and is made worse, and it was made worse in Limerick. We do not want this happening in Laois.
“The Minister is right about the networks and we agree with him. The networking that happened with the grouping of the hospitals is good and it has worked very well in maternity.
“All of the figures show that, and the patients are telling us that, as well as the staff. I acknowledge the work of the staff and management, particularly Michael Knowles, the Manager, for pushing for some of these improvements and capital investment. He has been instrumental in this regard.
“We all agree there is not enough capacity in the system across the country. Portlaoise has a very busy hospital, and we need to maintain the level of care that we have.
“It is not a parochial argument. I know we cannot have everything at every crossroads but this is a significant regional hospital and is the second-busiest accident and emergency unit outside Dublin.
“Along with welcoming all that has happened, which is good, I would love to have a statement from the Government that this is here to stay. That is what we want to hear.”
Minister Donnelly replied: “On top of what I have already said, we can point to additional investment in the emergency department.
“For example, the nursing complement in the emergency department in Portlaoise, from post-pandemic to now, has increased from 28.5 whole-time equivalents to 36.5 whole-time equivalents, so not only is the service not being downgraded and not only have I had no conversations about that, in fact, if we look at the hard figures, what we see is that money is going in and services, including in the emergency department, are being increased.
“There is an emergency department plan being put in place for every hospital. There are pressures all over the country. The influx that has been caused by Covid is immense.
“As we were discussing earlier, May of this year is the highest year on record for attendances to emergency departments, and I emphasise that is in May. We are planning for the winter now.”