As candidates go into their second week of campaigning for the general election, the spotlight in Donegal is on cancer care and local hospitals.
Betty Holmes, a community activist from Newtowncunningham, is standing as an Independent, single-issue candidate for better healthcare services. She warns that Letterkenny General Hospital is being downgraded “under our noses”. She noted that, in 2009, funding per patient was €4,916, compared to €6,305 at Waterford and €6,645 at Sligo.
Ms Holmes commented: “Our hospital and health services are in grave danger and I’m worried that no-one is listening. We, as people and patients, cannot stand by and let them downgrade our hospital, it is happening right now under our noses. Please act now in this election or it will be too late.
“It appears from the 2009 budget allocation figures that the lives of Donegal patients are of lesser value than those at other hospitals.”
She added: “We were told a few months ago that the budget deficit would be wiped clean for Letterkenny Hospital, this is not so. If there were serious inequalities in the budget at LGH in 2009, when times were good, God only knows how it will survive this year when the country is broke. Do not be fooled.
“What about our cancer patients, bus loads travelling to Galway. We have this week again seen Letterkenny General Hospital named as one of the top performing hospitals in the country, twice in a matter of months. I ask how can this be? I am asking how the stats are suddenly showing LGH in the top performers at a time when the general manager has no money to run the hospital as it needs to be.
“I am convinced that this message is being sent out by the powers that be to make us think that all is well, when we know that services at LGH have been greatly curtailed.”
Meanwhile, Ann McGowan, a Ballyshannon-based campaigner for cancer services, said she was “fed up with politicians’ promises and jargon” in relation to Sligo General Hospital.
She was responding to reports that the Labour Party is pulling back on a commitment made by Eamon Gilmore to have cancer services restored at the hospital. The Labour Party leaders is on record as saying, at a public rally for the restoration of cancer care services at Sligo: “Labour supports the idea of a centre of excellence for cancer services but the line on that map (death by geography picture) makes it’s own point, there is a clear, unanswerable case for a ninth Centre of Excellence in the North West.”
Ms McGowan says she’s was “fed-up” to hear Labour’s Joan Burton on local radio yesterday morning, apparently “pulling back” from that position.
“What I heard Labour’s Joan Burton saying on local radio this morning (yesterday) is that they could bring in pre-diagnostics and build up services in aftercare. They were also saying we should wait for their manifesto. They are so wishy washy, they are not making any commitment.
“It seems to me that you can promise anything you like until you get near to where you’re aiming. Now that it’s looking like Labour will be sharing power, they are already pulling back on their promises.
“And now Fianna Fáil say they are “considering strongly” bringing cancer services back to Sligo. What nonsense. The took the services away in the first place.
“What we need is decent and proper cancer care in Sligo General Hospital so that patients don’t have to travel up to five hours. I’m so fed up listening to the politicians’ jargon. They should drop the jargon and listen to the people.”
Co-operating for Cancer Care NorthWest, CCC(NW) announced yesterday that they would not be running a single-issue candidate in the upcoming election. Spokesperson Noelle Duddy said: “We are being directly asked by members of the public and indirectly by members of political parties if we are going to contest the coming election. We would like to put an end to this speculation. Whilst CCC(NW) warmly acknowledges the support and respect the people of Donegal have afforded our campaign to retain and develop cancer services in Letterkenny General Hospital, Donegal and the North West Region, we wish to inform the public that CCC(NW) will not be nominating candidates for election in Donegal. Contesting a General Election was never an ambition of CCC(NW).
“We believe that the strength of the success of our campaign is due to our non-political stance and our absolute focus on addressing the issues - retaining and developing cancer services in Donegal/NW in the public sector enshrined in the basis of equal access according to clinical need. We have earned the trust and respect of not just the public, but also of cross party, cross border politicians, Ministers and policy makers by being informed, open, honest and transparent in what we do. We believe we can achieve more by continuing to do what we do best - lobbying the new Government, opposition parties, etc and keeping cancer services a top item on their health agendas. Whilst we acknowledge our strengths and achievements we are a ‘single issue’ campaign and we fully recognise our limitations regarding addressing wider political, social and economic issues.”