County councillors have expressed fears over the future of small community hospitals all over Donegal.
At Monday’s meeting in Lifford members condemned the closure of nine beds at Dungloe Community Hospital and has called on the HSE to immediately reverse the decision.
Raising the issue at the council meeting, Councillor Marie Therese Gallagher said there has been been nine beds closed at the 44 bed hospital in Dungloe and people were very worried about the long term future of the hospital.
“There are fears in the locality this will lead to further closures and downgrading of services,” she said.
“There are only 22 beds open at the moment in the hospital due to staff retirements and funding cuts. There is also a problem locally where people from Dungloe are being sent from Dungloe to Falcarragh or St Joseph’s in Stranorlar. It is creating havoc all over the county,” she added.
“The fear is what community hospital will be next on the list? These bed closures are also having a huge knock on effect on budgets at Letterkennny General Hospital as patients have no step down facility to go to and have to be kept at the acute hospital,” she added.
She said the hospital serves a wide catchment area from Leitirmacaward -Gweebarra Bridge to the Crolly Bridge and the hinterland in between. The hospital also services Arranmore and other offshore islands. The population of the area is 7per cent higher than the national average in the age bracket over 70.
Locals are also livid about the lack of transport to facilitate visiting elderly relatives and loved ones in other nursing units.
Supporting the motion, Councillor David Alcorn said he had attended two meetings about the hospital in Dungloe.
“The matron and staff have done an outstanding job there for over fifty years. There is a lot of long stay patients in the hospital which is like a second home for them. Officials from the HSE that I have spoke to have assured me Dungloe will be looked after and there is no danger of closure,” he said.
“I’d ask people across the county to support the hospital,” he added.
Cllr. Terence Slowey said Dungloe was a very important hospital as it covered a wide catchment area.
“The closure of nine bed has a huge knock on effect,” he said.
Cllr. Seamus O’Domhnaill said there was an ‘onus’ on government councillors and TDs to protect services.
“Today, it is Dungloe, tomorrow it could be another in a different area of the county. The service provided in Dungloe is second to none and this should be highlighted to the Minister for Health,” he said.
Supporting the motion Councillor Padraig O’Dochartaigh said the hospital had provided ‘sterling service’ down through the years .
“I hope all the beds and x-ray facilities are retained at the hospital,” he said.
Cllr. Ciaran Brogan, a member of the HSE West said there were huge challenges ahead going forward for the government regarding the health service.
“I think we are unique in Donegal. I have no faith in HIQA reports. Our population and geographical spread merits that we have community hospitals in areas like Ramelton, Lifford, Carndonagh, Ballyshannon and Stranorlar,” he said.
He highlighted the work being done at Letterkenny General Hospital.
“I was astonished when I heard the CEO of the HSE say Letterkenny was too busy and had to slow down,” he added.
Cllr. Mick Quinn, said the ‘elderly and vulnerable’ deserved to be accommodated as near as possible to their home.
“If you chronically underfund services year on year and then you send in HIQA of course you’re going to have closures. HIQA will be used to close down other hospitals in this county. The General Manager of Letterkenny has kept the public briefed with the funding shortfalls at the hospital,” he said.
Cllr. Bernard McGuinness said as a result of the HIQA report beds had been closed at Carndonagh and Ramelton Community Hospitals.
“Since the abolition of the old health boards the health system has gone all wrong. As a result of that decision we are in crisis now. There has been a shortfall on funding for years and cutbacks are being brought in by stealth due to a crumbling health service. “The HSE West is a total waste of time. You can make no decisions there at all. All they can do is make recommendations,” he said.
Cllr. Frank McBrearty said as a member of the HSE West he was frustrated with the health service but didn’t want the difficulties to be used as a ‘political football’.
“We need to protect community hospitals such as Dungloe but we’ve inherited major problems from the last government. I’m disappointed as the only Labour councillor in the south west that the people of Dungloe didn’t come to me with their concerns. My mother’s people are from the Dungloe area and I’m familiar with it,” he said.
Cllr. Ian McGarvey warned the closure of any community hospital would have adverse knock on effects in the local community.
“I welcome the confirmation from the members of the HSE here today that it is a waste of time. I don’t see any benefit in it. The intention is to run down the nursing homes all over the country due to funding,” he warned.