The revelations in last week’s Donegal Democrat that 25 beds, over 50% of the total hospital beds in Ballyshannon have been closed recently has evoked widespread concern in the town and Ballyshannon Town Councillors have called on the HSE to reinstate these beds with immediate effect.
The revelation came as a result of a question put by Cllr. Pat O’Malley who described the move as “death by a thousand cuts” and said that “for most of the residents both the Sheil and the Rock (hospitals) were second homes”
This newspaper contacted the major political parties for their response on the issue which is of crucial importance to the Erneside town.
Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Health Billy Kelleher told the Donegal Democrat, “This level of bed losses in south Donegal over such a short period is an incredible blow to the local health services, particularly when taken in tandem with the closure of Lifford Hospital and the cuts to the budgets of Sligo and Letterkenny General Hospitals.
“The health services in the North West is being squeezed due to record numbers of retirements and the Government policy of targeting community hospitals for the bulk of cuts this year.
“Quite simply, the situation for patients in this area is becoming unsafe.”
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill said: “With all of these cuts taking place to our local health services, patients are wondering, where are they supposed to go?
“We have lost half of the beds at the Shiel Hospital and the Rock Hospital, Lifford Hospital is being shut down and Sligo and Letterkenny Hospitals will be under more severe pressure than ever before.
“People in south Donegal need to know that they can get the basic treatment they need within a reasonable distance of their home, without being expected to travel long distances to Sligo or North Donegal when it’s not always possible to do so.”
Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty yesterday stated that the only way to change this situation is for a change on Government policy.
Doherty said, “The recruitment embargo which was implemented by Fianna Fail and continued by the present government coupled with the starvation of capital to the health services is the root cause of this problems.
“We have a situation where if a nurse retires or goes on maternity leave they cannot be replaced under the present embargo - the result is that inevitably beds will close and I would predict that more beds in community hospitals will close unless this policy is immediately reversed.
“I have met with the HSE and can confirm that this unacceptable policy is not HSE driven -they have been totally honest with me and have stated that more beds will close if the embargo is not reversed.
“On a much more human level the nurse today knows that if she becomes ill or indeed pregnant, a bed could well be closed as a result. Is this acceptable in modern day Ireland - I think not and call on the Government to immediately address the problem before lives are lost.”
Dinny McGinley, Minister of State for the Gaeltacht said, “The closure of any beds is to be regretted and as you correctly stated 25 beds have indeed been closed in Ballyshannon.
“However, while I empathise with your annoyance as local councillors I find the duplicity of the Fianna Fail councillors astounding considering 24 of these bed closures took place during their time in office and well in advance of the General election.
“I would like you to note that since the election of February 2011 only one bed has been closed there. Currently there are 33 beds in the Shiel Hospital and 22 in the Rock Hospital providing a combined total of 55 beds for the people of the Ballyshannon area.
“One final point of importance to note is that the reason for bed closures in Ballyshannon was to meet with HIQUA standards.
“In concluding I would like to acknowledge the staff of both hospitals for the level of care provided to all patients and their families at both facilities.”