Seanad debates

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

7:00 pm

Photo of Francis O'BrienFrancis O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise the important issue of the situation in which Monaghan General Hospital finds itself at present. It has been under threat for the past number of years. For the past 50 years, Monaghan General Hospital has been a fantastic hospital. The surgeons, consultants, nurses and medical staff are excellent. It is unforgivable that the hospital is under threat at present. This day last week 3,000 to 4,000 people came to Hillgrove Hotel to protest in support of their hospital. God rest Pat Joe Walsh, a man who should never have died. The report was very bad for Monaghan General Hospital. It proposes taking more services away from the hospital. Thankfully, as I hope the Minister of State can confirm tonight, that report will be not implemented. I had assurances in the past ten days that the services in Monaghan General Hospital would be retained and maintained so we would have full medical cover 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At present surgical services are only offered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., which is insufficient. We hope that the surgical services would be there to support the medical services already in place and that should also be 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The hospital has a state-of-the-art theatre that is completely underutilised. Elective surgery could take place there, which would take the pressure off the hospitals in Cavan, Drogheda and Dundalk. It is important that Monaghan General Hospital should serve the people of Monaghan. The people of Monaghan want their hospital. They need it and they are demanding it. I am in full support of the people of Monaghan.

I congratulate the people who turned out last Wednesday at the Hillgrove Hotel in huge numbers. I also congratulate the 7,000 to 8,000 people who turned out at the opening of the Monaghan bypass on Monday. That speaks louder than words. That is why the people of Monaghan are out on the streets. Those people were there to support their hospital, despite the little bit of disturbance, which does not represent the 7,000 to 8,000 people present. There was a great crowd there. They were very dignified. Only a small number were involved in the rumblings at the front, the various things that were said and not obeying the Garda. That small number of people did not do any good for the hospital or for the opening of the much-needed bypass, which the people of Monaghan have awaited for so long in order to eliminate the queues of traffic coming into Monaghan town.

We cannot and will not allow Monaghan General Hospital to be downgraded any further. I appeared on radio and television last week. I have had discussions with the Taoiseach's office and the Minister for Health and Children. We are now seeking a meeting with the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister of State, who is present this evening. As the Minister of State knows, for more than a year every Minister who has come to County Monaghan has met the Fianna Fáil organisation, members of the county council and members of the alliance, namely, Peadar McMahon and Illona Duffy. I offer my support to those two people who have worked so hard and are so determined. They have the support of the people and the support of all the organisations in the county. I appeal to the Minister for Health and Children and the Taoiseach to ensure that Monaghan General Hospital is allowed to service the people as is and that its existing services can be improved.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I will be taking the Adjournment on behalf of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I thank the Senator for raising this issue on the Adjournment of the House. It is not the first occasion he has raised the issue and I appreciate his concern about the hospital, a concern which I share.

The Health Service Executive established a steering group and a north-east project group to oversee a programme designed to improve safety and standards across the acute hospital network in the north-east region. The decision was taken having regard to the issues raised in the report prepared for the HSE by Teamwork Management Services entitled Improving Safety and Achieving Better Standards — An Action Plan for Health Services in the North East, and taking account of the findings of the recent report into the death of Mr. Patrick J. Walsh. Led by the National Hospitals Office, the steering group has representation from key stakeholders such as clinicians and primary care providers. The project group is being led by a consultant surgeon from outside the region.

The Teamwork report makes a number of short, medium and long-term recommendations. It concludes that the present system, where five local hospitals deliver acute care to relatively small populations, is exposing patients to increased risks and creating additional professional risks for staff. The report highlights the need to develop a high quality and responsive emergency and planned service, in line with international standards, by developing local services within existing hospitals and other local centres supported by a new regional hospital.

The HSE published the report of the independent inquiry into the death of Mr. Walsh on 7 September last. I understand the concern regarding the report in Monaghan and outside expressed by the Senator in the House this evening. Following the death of Mr. Walsh in Monaghan General Hospital on 14 October 2005, Mr. Declan Carey, a consultant surgeon at Belfast City Hospital and an honorary senior lecturer at Queen's University, and Professor John Monson, professor of surgery at the University of Hull, carried out an independent and external review of the circumstances of this tragic death.

The report details the difficulties that arose in trying to secure Mr. Walsh's transfer from Monaghan to either Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, or Cavan General Hospital. It also exposes a failure in communications between clinicians and hospitals in the region. Since the death of Mr. Walsh, a new protocol on patient transfer has been put in place. It provides that all requests for transfer from Monaghan General Hospital to Cavan General Hospital or Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, should be granted and processed immediately.

The HSE has given the Minister an assurance that, in progressing the implementation of these reports, there will be no discontinuation of existing services until suitable alternative arrangements have been put in place. I am happy to confirm that on the record of the House. The Senator also made a forceful plea for the development of certain other services at Monaghan General Hospital. I will bring his proposal on elective surgery to the attention of the Minister.