The Health Service Executive (HSE) is reported to be withdrawing the subsidy for the bus service that brings Donegal people to Dublin for medical treatment and appointments, it emerged yesterday.
Francis Marley of Marley Coach Hire in Ballybofey said he received confirmation from the HSE that funding for the service was being withdrawn from July 27th. Marley Coach Hire provides the Monday-through-Friday service for the HSE, transporting an average of 50 Donegal people a week to and from appointments in Dublin. The company has provided the service for more than 35 years, Mr. Marley said.
“It’s definitely finishing unless someone can come up with some way of funding it,” he said.
The HSE did not respond to a request for comment by the time of going to press.
Brendan McLaughlin, Ireland’s longest-surviving lung transplant recipient, said the service is a lifeline for many Donegal people. The bus collects passengers in Letterkenny at 7 am and drops them to the hospital or clinic where they are receiving treatment. The bus also waits until treatments are completed to collect passengers for the return journey.
“We wait until everyone’s appointments are over and arrange to pick them up,” Mr. Marley said. “That’s what’s needed.”
But Brendan McLaughlin said the service provides more than just transport.
“You don’t always get good news when you’re up there and those people are wild nice, wild caring,” he said. He said drivers have accompanied patients entering unfamiliar hospitals and made sure they had something to eat on the day. Many times the bus has to stop en route when a patient took ill.
“I know what they do because I’ve been travelling with them for a long time,” Brendan said.
Fianna Fáil Cllr. Patrick McGowan said Charlie McConalogue, Fianna Fáil TD for Donegal North East, was to put a question to the minister last night and Sen. Brian Ó Domhnaill would raise the issue today in the Seanad.
“Now, not only are they not going to provide services in the north west but they are also telling people who are most vulnerable, they’ve more or less told them now to make their own way to Dublin,” Cllr. McGowan said. He said the decision “was an absolute disgrace, and it cannot be tolerated”.
Mr. McLaughlin agreed. He said the specialist services people receive in Dublin are not available locally. “This is the way government has designed things,” he said. “We didn’t ask for it. We have to travel.”
“They might as well put a gun to our head and shoot us,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “That’s the way a lot of people feel.”