The future of three community hospitals in County Donegal, in Stranorlar, Carndonagh and Dungloe was raised in the Seanad by Donegal Labour Senator Jimmy Harte. He said they are as geographically spread out as any three hospitals in the county could be.
“This issue, which affects every corner of County Donegal, was brought into focus recently when HIQA reports found that the hospitals in question were not 100% satisfactory,” he said. “Many of these problems stem from the staffing of the hospitals. The communities served by these hospitals and the families of the hospitals’ patients need to get some clarity. That would be better than certain individuals going on the airwaves to say that the hospitals will close, or that there will be a reduction in services. Older people would rather have clarity. Many of them would regard the community hospital in the same way as their sitting room or kitchen. That is where they spend their time and where their families visit them.”
County Donegal may be unique in how its community hospital service is structured, he said. Lifford Community Hospital, which is roughly in the same boat, provides a useful step-down service to those treated at Letterkenny General Hospital. The local community and the local doctors came together when that hospital was under threat to speak to the Minister and draw up a plan to help the hospital improve structurally.
Senator Harte said the HSE has a communications problem. Its management should play a more proactive role and say exactly what is happening here. “When rumours are spread about hospitals - this seems to be a regular occurrence - politicians from all parties have to find out what is happening and go on the airwaves to explain the position before someone from the HSE eventually issues a statement,” he added.
In reply, Minister of State Kathleen Lynch said Dungloe Community Hospital, like Carndonagh and Stranorlar community hospitals, was registered with the Health Information and Quality Authority on 22 June 2012. In order to maintain a sate level of care to patients the HSE decided temporarily to reduce the number of short-stay beds by ten. Long-stay beds are unaffected.
The recent decision to reduce capacity at Carndonagh Hospital from 42 to 38 beds was also taken to maintain safe and appropriate levels of care to patients. The situation will be kept under review and as sick leave resolves the beds will re-open. In regard to St Joseph’s Community Hospital, she said there was a concern that a complex mix of residents can make it more difficult for the staff to meet the needs of long-term residents. “In order to address this issue one ward, with a dedicated staff, has now been designated for long-stay residents only,” she added. “The changes mean St. Joseph’s will now have an operational capacity of 67 beds.”
Seventeen per cent of people in the country do not have access to a bank account, Donegal Independent Deputy Thomas Pringle told the Dáil. Most of them are probably social welfare recipients who are the customers of the Department of Social Protection, he said.
Speaking during Question Time he said while recognising the role of An Post in facilitating payments and its success in becoming the preferred bidder, he also knew that the Department’s preference is to move to electronic payments, with the aim of having only 3% payments made in cash by 2017.
“This will have very serious implications for the recipients of social welfare payments and also for An Post and the viability of its network,” he said. In reply, Minister Joan Burton said An Post does not have the standard bank account facility which, perhaps, should have been developed a long time ago.