New block opens, but the funding concerns remain

In the week that saw Letterkenny General Hospital open its new €24.5 million emergency and medical block, there were also reports of further hospital budget cuts threatened.

In the week that saw Letterkenny General Hospital open its new €24.5 million emergency and medical block, there were also reports of further hospital budget cuts threatened.

The emergency department in the new block was to open today, with the block’s three medical wards to be opened over the next 10 days. Seán Murphy, general manager of the hospital, and other hospital management led members of the media on a tour of the new facility on Monday.

At Monday night’s meeting of Letterkenny Town Council, Sinn Féin Cllr. Gerry McMonagle brought forward a motion requesting that Health Minister, James Reilly, TD, meet with a cross-party delegation from Letterkenny to discuss funding for the hospital. Earlier this month, Donegal Oireachtas members warned that the hospital was facing additional cuts of several million euro this year.

“Letterkenny is been forced to endure under-funding and under-staffing on a scale not comparable with any other hospital in the state,” Cllr McMonagle said. “It is vital we meet Minister Reilly and reverse the cuts of 3.5 million due by the end of this year.”

Fine Gael Cllr. Jimmy Kavanagh said the hospital has a budget of €93 million but there was a monthly overspend of €800,000. “Those expenses are driven by demand in the hospital,” he said. “There is little you can do about such services. You have to meet demand.”

Hospital management had been informed that they would receive no additional resources to staff the new block. Last week, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), Services Industrial and Professional Technical Union (Siptu) and the Impact trade unions agreed to interim measures to facilitate the opening of the block. The hospital closed the gynaecology ward on Monday in another move to free up staff. But a campaign in support of the gynae ward drew several thousand followers on Facebook, and led to a rally on Saturday and a candlelight vigil outside the hospital gates on Monday evening.

In addition, on Tuesday Highland Radio reported having seen internal Health Service Executive (HSE) correspondence that suggested there were proposals to reduce the number of locum consultants at the hospital. The document claimed that such a cut would affect the hospital’s ability to provide a 24-hour emergency department and around-the-clock trauma cover, and lead to other reductions in service, according to the Highland report.

Asked to comment on the Highland report, the HSE issued a brief statement: “A range of cost-containment measures are being considered and evaluated, and decisions will be communicated as and when any are made.”

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