Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Micheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
Last July, the Minister for Health and deputy leader of Fine Gael met with all the Laois Dáil Deputies regarding their concerns about the future role of Portlaoise General Hospital and particularly their concerns that there would be no reduction of accident and emergency services in that hospital. In subsequent radio interviews, many Deputies, including Fine Gael's Deputy Charles Flanagan, made it clear to the people of Laois that the Minister had given a commitment to retaining accident and emergency services at the hospital. However, the Health Service Executive has written to the Committee of Public Accounts outlining the actual plans for Portlaoise, which appear to be quite the opposite of the commitments made by the Taoiseach's deputy leader. Under this plan, the Portlaoise hospital will be downgraded to a level 2 hospital, which will mean the accident and emergency department will be a medical assessment unit dealing with low-risk patients only. There are also reports that, as a result, the intensive care unit will be removed.
We know that all sorts of commitments and promises were made over the last 12 months around the country. We know this because of the broken promises made about Roscommon hospital. It is clear, however, that Portlaoise is in a different category given the Census 2011 results which show that the area's population has grown by about 20% to unprecedented levels. Some 41,000 patients were seen in the hospital's accident and emergency unit last year alone.
In the last six months, the Minister for Health has taken personal charge of the HSE and his Department has underspent by about €40 million. Can the Taoiseach confirm what the plans are for Portlaoise hospital? Will he confirm what is contained in the HSE's communication to the Committee of Public Accounts as regards Portlaoise being downgraded to a level 2 hospital?