The HSE have issued a statement this afternoon confirming that they will cease residential care at Lifford Community Hospital.
The statement indicates: “The Service Plan for HSE West published today confirms the intention to cease residential care at Lifford Community Hospital in 2012. All other primary care and day services will continue as normal.
“Since the moratorium on recruitment was introduced to the end of February 2012 a total of 61.7 staff will have left the community hospital services in Donegal. This includes 36 nursing staff. In order to maintain patient safety there is a need to consolidate residential care at a smaller number of locations.
“The provision of a safe and quality service is paramount to the HSE. The intention to close the unit was taken on the basis that the capacity to continue to deliver a safe service is not possible in view of the reducing financial allocation across all HSE services, continued reductions in staff numbers, (in line with plans to reduce the overall number of staff working in the public sector) and the difficulty in meeting future HIQA Standards, in particular the standard for physical environment.” However, the HSE has moved to assure patients and their families that there will be a full consultation process:
“John Hayes, Area Manager for Donegal assured patients, families and staff that there will be no change until a full consultation process is undertaken during the next three months.
“Residents will have the option to transfer to other HSE units or opt for care in private nursing homes at no additional cost. There will be no loss of jobs. All discussions with staff will be facilitated through their unions in line with the Croke Park Agreement.”
The HSE satement added: “The HSE acknowledges the excellent commitment and high level of care always shown by staff at Lifford Hospital, to both the patients and their fellow staff members.”
Political reaction to proposals that will see the closure of Lifford Community Hospital and the possible amalgamation of two hospitals in Ballyshannon has been swift and to the point.
Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty reacting to the HSE West Service Plan announced on Friday, said: “Today’s HSE service plan for the Western Region sees over €27 million euro being taken out of our health service across Donegal. There is a specific reference to the rationalisation of Lifford Community hospital in the plan which could see 20 beds being axed and the hospital closed.
“This Government like the last, has ignored the voices of the people who took to the streets in their thousands demanding that our community hospitals remain open, and our health services are cut no further.
“Last year’s general election and change of government has done nothing to halt the attacks on Donegal’s health services. Labour and Fine Gael’s promises just 12 months ago that they would protect front line services today lie in tatters. Today’s announcement will result in Donegal being faced with a community hospital closure, thousands of homehelp hours reduced and our general hospital stripped to the bone, with the real possibility of key services being taken away from Letterkenny General.
Deputy Doherty added: “I would urge the people of Donegal to stand together on this issue, to speak with one voice and fight these cuts.”
The HSE report indicated that while the new A&E will open at Letterkenny General Hospital this year, the hospital has had its funding cut from €97M to €92.6M.
Meanwhile, a public consultation on the future of Lifford Hospital will begin on March 1st.
Minister of State for the Gaeltacht, Dinny McGinley said that while Lifford Hospital may close, the final decision had not yet been made and he said the consultation process would determine the final decision.
However, Fianna Fáil Senator Brian Ó Domhaill has said he is gravely concerned by confirmation today that the Health Service Executive has earmarked Lifford Community Hospital for closure.
“This report confirms our worst fears in relation to Lifford Hospital,” said Senator Ó Domhnaill. “The HSE plan for the region, which has already been approved by the Health Minister James Reilly, has singled out Lifford Hospital for closure this year. This is a disastrous move that will only put further pressure on Letterkenny General Hospital which is struggling to meet the demand for its services as it is.
“Shutting down Lifford Hospital will be a costly mistake. It will push elderly patients into the acute hospital system, at a time when Letterkenny Hospital is already under severe pressure.
“The result will be longer waiting lists for beds, an increase in overcrowding and patients turning up at Letterkenny Hospital because they can no longer get the care they need in their own community,” he said.
Local Fianna Fáil Councillor Gerry Crawford has described the news as a major blow for the Lifford area.
Cllr Crawford said: “This facility is an integral part of the health services of this region, and it will be a major loss to the community. People had hoped that the Government would do the right thing and keep it open.”
Senator Ó Domhnaill concluded: “I am appealing to Minister Reilly, local Minister of State Dinny McGinley and Government Oireachtas members across the North West to see the bigger picture here. Closing Lifford Hospital may result in short term financial gain, but the long term costs to patients and our local health services are enormous.”
Lifford Community Hospital currently operates 11 beds for long stay patients plus respite services. Lifford Community Hospital is the oldest community hospital building in Donegal and was first built as an army barracks in 1798. While improvements have been made to the fabric of the building services are provided from four nightingale wards, three single rooms and one twin bed room.
The viability of retaining 11 community hospitals/nursing units in Donegal has been under discussion for some time.