Tuesday, 21 November 2017
I welcome the Minister of State. In essence, I am asking that the Minister for Health make a statement on the plans by the Dublin Midlands hospital group to downgrade the services at Portlaoise hospital and to publish the five-year plan for the hospital. There is great uncertainty regarding this plan. From today's edition of theLeinster Express, we understand that public meetings are to be held in respect of this issue. These are being organised by the Portlaoise Hospital Action Committee, which has become an enormous force in the midlands. No politician, either locally or nationally, would want to underestimate or undermine a group that wants to articulate the need to retain a hospital of this significance and its importance to the local community. The views of that community need to be taken on board.
I am open to hearing what the Minister of State has to say on this matter. The action committee states that the new model of clinical service delivery for the Dublin Midlands hospital group proposes the removal of the emergency services, maternity services, paediatric services and other services from Portlaoise, which would lead to the hospital being downgraded to category 2. Clearly, the members of the committee have been in contact with the Minister and all their local councillors, Deputies and Senators.I have received correspondence from people in Portarlington, Mountmellick, Abbeyleix, Mountrath, Graiguecullen and Killeshin on this issue. It is also interesting that the Laois GPs have come together as a formidable group and called for a resolution of this matter.
The Minister of State knows the background to this issue. It is important to note that, over the next few nights, there will be major public gatherings in each of these areas, starting at Mountmellick, Portarlington and Mountrath. It is important the Department comes to the fore in engaging and communicating, as should the authorities in Portlaoise hospital. The people are clearly stating they have not been given a satisfactory reason. It is important communication is ongoing. There is significance in terms of Dublin hospitals and Tullamore, which is a magnificent hospital. Will the Minister of State clarify the Government's intentions for Portlaoise hospital?
I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this important matter. I know he has a strong and passionate interest in health service issues, as well as in the area covered by my portfolio, namely, disabilities.
The Minister for Health has stated previously the most important issue in the consideration of services at the Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, is that patient safety and outcomes must come first. The Minister for Health is committed to securing and further developing the role of the Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, as a constituent hospital in the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group.
Reports on Portlaoise hospital in recent years have pointed to the need for restructuring of some services to ensure that patients are treated in the most appropriate setting by specialist staff who can safely meet their needs. Since 2014, the focus has been on supporting the hospital to develop and enhance management capability, implementing changes required to address clinical service deficiencies, and incorporating the hospital into the governance structures in the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group. Significant work has been undertaken to strengthen and stabilise current arrangements for services at the hospital to ensure services provided which are not sustainable are discontinued, while those that are sustainable are safety assured and adequately resourced.
The HSE has confirmed the hospital's funding has increased by 28% relative to the 2012 budget and staffing levels have risen by 29% from the 2014 base. Funding of €300,000 has also been provided this year to facilitate the opening of the new medical assessment unit. In addition, governance and management arrangements in Portlaoise hospital have been strengthened, additional clinical staff have been appointed and staff training, hospital culture and communications have improved.
The Dublin Midlands Hospital Group has been working for some time on a draft plan for a new model of clinical service delivery at Portlaoise hospital. A draft plan was submitted to the Department of Health in December 2016. It was reviewed in detail and was the subject of detailed engagement between Department officials and the HSE. Significant additional work was undertaken by the HSE on foot of this engagement resulting in a revised draft plan submitted to the Department in September 2017.
Patient and public requirements are paramount and have underpinned the Department's consideration of the draft plan. The report is currently under detailed consideration in the Department of Health. Once there is an agreed position on the draft plan, it is intended there will be further engagement with all interested parties to ensure the needs of patients, staff, as well as the local and wider community, are addressed. Any future changes to services at Portlaoise hospital would have to take account of existing patient flows and demands in other hospitals, as well as the need to develop particular services at Portlaoise in the context of the overall service configuration in the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group.
I thank the Minister of State. I am cognisant that there was a draft plan in 2016. Consultation clearly took place. The draft plan was amended and the HSE came back in 2017 with a further version. That is an indication of ongoing consultation and engagement, which I welcome. It is important to have this plan published soon in line with what the Minister of State has delivered today. It is also important that people know what is happening. Tomorrow night and the night after, hundreds of people will attend public meetings in Portarlington, Mountmellick, Abbeyleix, Mountrath, Graiguecullen and Killeshin. It would be helpful for all involved to have more information and a greater understanding of the plan. There is steam behind this campaign. People will not let up. They are committed to saving their hospital. It is important that details of the plan and the new model be published as soon as possible. I thank the Minister of State for attending.
I will bring the Senator's concerns and message directly back to the Minister, Deputy Harris. No actual agreement has been reached on the plan. People are entitled to know and there will be major engagement. The most important people involved in this are the patients, medical staff and the local and wider community in the Portlaoise area. It is important that we ensure the services we deliver for people are top-class and that they are delivered as near as possible to the local community.