Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Táim buíoch don Aire Stáit as ucht fanacht anseo linn chun páirt a ghlacadh sa díospóireacht seo.
The public health care system in Louth and east Meath is in crisis because of the Fianna Fáil-led Government pursuing a policy of privatisation. This has stripped Louth County Hospital of its essential services. The children's ward was the first to go, followed by the maternity ward and the gynaecological unit. We were told the maternity unit was to be closed temporarily but it never reopened. The midwife-led unit was to be put in its place but this never happened. In June 2003, we were told that the building identified for use as a midwife-led unit would require some modification. This work was to have been completed in 2004 but we are still waiting. The domino effect of cuts led to the withdrawal of accident and emergency and acute medical services last July. This is a very serious and life-threatening situation that the Fine Gael-Labour Government can reverse if there is the political will to do so.
The stripping away of services in Louth County Hospital has a knock-on effect on Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. It is now unable to cope with the demands being made on it. Two months ago, I visited the accident and emergency unit in the latter hospital and was appalled at the number of patients lying on hospital trolleys, chairs and even the floor. While these distressed, sick and, in some cases, very elderly women were in a very modern building, they were really in Third World conditions.
The front-line staff in the hospital, as with the staff in Louth County Hospital, are doing their very best and wonderful work. They have insufficient resources and there has been very bad planning by the HSE and the previous Government. The staff are committed to the care of the sick and injured. Patients are clearly victims of the two-tier health system and the staff are frustrated because their vocation is one of caring. They are not being given the resources necessary for them to fulfil their duties.
According to the previous Government, the rationale for stripping away Louth's services was that these services would be transferred to a new regional hospital. Even if we buy into that logic, we must realise the new regional hospital should have been put in place before any services were removed from another. Sinn Féin's policy is to have local services available to people at the closest point of access.
The Save Our Hospital Services campaign group has written to the Minister seeking a meeting. I appeal to the Minister of State to pass on this request to the Minister in order that there will be a meeting with the campaign group to discuss the future of Louth County Hospital. Tá sé tuillte go maith acu agus caithfidh saoránaigh seirbhísí ospidéil éifeachtúla a bheith ar fáil acu ina ndúiche. Sinn Féin supports the campaign to restore accident and emergency services in Louth County Hospital. As a first step, we would like to see the services put in place, like dominoes, after which we would proceed to acute medical, intensive care and emergency services.
There should be a midwife-led unit in Dundalk, as was promised. The provision of such services would have a very positive effect on citizens and also on the health services available in both Our Lady of Lourdes and Navan hospitals. The people of Louth and east Meath and of the rest of this island deserve a health service that treats them with respect, looks after the elderly and provides public nursing home beds, effective community care facilities and home care.
There should be proper funding for mental health provision. The mental health service is the Cinderella of the health service. I ask the Minister of State to reinstate the accident and emergency service, acute medical beds and intensive care unit at Louth County Hospital and to provide a midwife-led unit.
The Deputy will be glad to know that this is the shortest reply of the night; nonetheless it is important. I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy James Reilly. I thank the Deputy for raising it.
In recent years the HSE has been working to reorganise services in the Louth-Meath hospital group. Louth County Hospital has continued to play an important and expanding role in the provision of health services in the north-east region, with a particular focus on diagnostic and day services. A minor injuries unit and additional ambulance services were put in place to support the plan. Stroke rehabilitation, day surgical, day medical, step-down, gynaecology and radiology services remain in Louth County Hospital. In addition, the care of the elderly service has transferred to the hospital from Drogheda. General and orthopaedic rehabilitation services are being developed in Dundalk. A dedicated venesection service has been established and a new colposcopy unit opened at the hospital.
Louth County Hospital has also been selected by the National Cancer Screening Service as one of the 15 candidate screening colonoscopy units to provide the colonoscopy requirements for the colorectal cancer screening programme. It is important to stress that patient safety has been central to all decisions taken regarding the operation of health services in the region as well as nationally.
The Minister is committed to ensuring acute hospital services at national, regional and local level are provided in a clinically appropriate and efficient manner. In particular, he wants to ensure that as many services as possible can be provided safely in smaller local hospitals. In order to fully consider the issues involved, he is being briefed by the Department and the Health Service Executive on the organisation of acute services in each region and the important clinical programmes being developed by the executive. These interrelated programmes aim to improve service quality, effectiveness and patient access and ensure patient care is provided in the service setting most appropriate to individual needs.
I will pass on the Deputy's request for a meeting to the Minister. This is a new Government which will look at matters differently.