NEWS

Warning given to government over future of Community Hospitals in Donegal

“We will cause absolute mayhem” - contributor tells Minister

Gerry McLaughlin

Reporter:

Gerry McLaughlin

Email:

editorial@donegaldemocrat.com

Warning given to government over future of Community Hospitals in Donegal

Concerned members of the public listening to the speakers at the meeting on Tuesday night. Photo Brian McDaid.

A speaker at Tuesday's packed public meeting about community hospital plans for Donegal warned that the people would cause "absolute mayhem" if the government "don't come up with the goods" in terms of financing and support for hospitals in Lifford, Stranorlar and Ramelton. 

Near the end of the meeting a speaker from the floor, Eamon O’Fearghail, told Jim Daly, Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People who was at the meeting that if they didn't get what they needed to maintain the hospitals, they would take their protest to another level:

“Lest anybody up there think that this was a safety valve for politicians who come down from Dublin. That is certainly not the case as this will be a political issue at the next election, both local and national. The people are waiting to see what you are going to do.

“We want to see the colour of the money and if we don’t in the very short time span, we are going to have to up the ante. Minister Daly will get used to marching because there will be plenty of it around here.

“We will have to do it another way so we will just guarantee you that if you don’t come up with the goods and keep our hospital supported by finance we will cause absolute mayhem here”.

'Beware the risen-marching people' was the clear message coming from a taut and tense meeting on the future of community hospitals in Stranorlar, Lifford and Ramelton where a crowd of over 350 came to listen to some government and HSE explanations in Jackson’s Hotel.

And the public jury is very much out as Jim Daly, Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, told a meeting oozing cold fury that he would correct the Dáil record in relation to an answer given by a government spokesperson just four hours before the Jackson’s Hotel meeting.

The government spokesperson was answering questions from Fianna Fail’s Pat “The Cope” Gallagher and Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty in the Dáil about the future of the hospitals.

In the course of a reply the spokesperson said that “while the care delivered to residents in our community hospitals is generally of a very high standard, many of these services are delivered in buildings that are less than ideal in the modern context.

“It is proposed that the new community nursing unit will be delivered by the end of 2021, through a Public Private Partnership or alternative funding model to provide long term residential care services in the area”

But it was the following sentence that really annoyed the large crowd who came into the meeting armed with copies of the government response of just a few hours previously.

“The decision reflected a view that these hospitals were not considered to be appropriate for residential care in the medium time”.

This message sparked frustration, fury, anger and disbelief as speaker after speaker accused the government of sending confusing mixed messages that was causing deep distress to those who use the services and their relatives.

Mr Daly said he would be happy to take a question in the Dáil and stand over everything he had told Tuesday night’s meeting, just a few hours after the contrary statement.

“I will put it on the Dáil record but I will be honest and I will be truthful”.

Meeting chairperson, John Gallagher, Vice Chairperson of the Save St Joseph’s Stranorlar Hospital, said the reason they were at the meeting was because two years ago the then Minister Kathleen Lynch said that there was going to be a new building planned for Letterkenny for 2021.

There would be 130 beds in it and at that stage the hospitals in St Joseph’s, Ramelton and Lifford would close.

This shocked the entire community because people would be better cared for in their own homes and later high support units and when it was no longer possible and people lost their independence that they would still be cared for in their own areas.

Mr Gallagher claimed the facility in Letterkenny would be like a “factory situation” where people were going to lose their independence and were coming from a completely different culture. He said that care of the elderly was much more than giving them a bed but it was also about looking after their mental health and keeping them active.

He added that the Public/Private proposal gives the “smell that there is somebody there trying to make a profit and profit will win when it is a private company,” he said, to warm applause. “Nothing has changed and there has been a lot of questions in the Dáil and grants that never came and as far as we are concerned the statement made by Minister Kathleen Lynch two years ago still stands.

“Minister Daly reiterated that statement last July but on Highland Radio he withdrew and said he was working on information that was out of date. But even as late as this evening in Dáil Eireann Pat “The Cope” Gallagher and Pearse Doherty have asked questions and the answers they got back are still the same that we have been getting over the few years. We want to know from the horse’s mouth what the plan is for care in our community.

“We hear about community care and community hospitals but why does the community not get a say on how the people are going to be looked after in our community hospitals.”

Minister Daly said that he hoped to be able to answer the concerns and to allay their concerns, which was his “duty”.

“Kathleen Lynch did issue a statement and the plan was to replace the three hospitals with a new facility in Letterkenny. Thanks to you good people and the power and commitment and the passion you have shown on the marches in raising awareness that you don’t want these hospitals closed and you have made your voices heard through your public representatives. We have heard it loud and clear and the HSE has also listened”.

"No plan to close St Joseph's at this point in time"

He said there was “no plan to close St Joseph’s at this point in time”.

Mr Daly said it was “an incredible unit”. He said the Rhatigan Report had been commissioned to look at the future demands.

“It is not going to make much sense for us to begin a programme of building from scratch and closing beds here. What sense would it make to close Stranorlar, Lifford or Ramelton, none whatsoever? The only reason that any beds have been closed was due to HIQA making a determination for safety.

“There is no reason to close those beds”. He said the government wanted to continue with Letterkenny.

“But there is no reason whatsoever that this cannot be complimentary. There is no requirement to centralise care of the elderly.”

He said he would work with the communities in keeping the three hospitals open. "What benefit is there in closing beds when the demand is so stark? We can increase the number of beds there by four immediately. We want to bring the people off the hospital trolleys and bring them back into their own communities. I am here for the long haul every step of the way. I can’t write the cheque, I am the minister, not God, but I will be your voice”.

Mr Gallagher asked the Minister about a derogation that Stranorlar has vis a vis HIQA but that could end in 2021 when more beds are provided in Letterkenny.

“Will HIQA not say then that the hospital has had time to get things up to standard, there is enough beds in the county to keep up to standard. So you won’t have to do the dirty job Minister, it is HIQA that will do it for you. No Minister ever stood up and said I am closing a hospital, that would be political suicide. What they do is that they hide behind this vehicle called the HSE or HIQUA which seems to be not responsible to anyone.”

In response, Mr Daly said HIQA have upped the standard of care for the elderly beyond recognition in this country. He said hospitals did not have to close but they had to up the ante and spend money on improvements. “That is happening in St Joseph’s and you could dance a jig around the beds there now as there is so much space”, he added.

Mr Gallagher asked Mr Daly to put it in writing, confirmation from HIQA that St Joseph’s presently meets the standards that is required.

“If not give us in writing that you are prepared to put in enough money to meet that standar ?”

“I can’t give you anything in writing; I might not be alive in 2021.”

Mr Gallagher said the minister had just stated that St Joseph’s had already met HIQA standards.

“Surely you can give us that in writing”. Mr Daly said: “if you want to play politics with that side of it, the entertainment side of it.”

Mr Gallagher said he was not “playing politics at all. “So don’t try to sell me this thing about politics, I don’t want politics in it at all. But I want the truth tonight.” Mr Daly said he could write anything he liked but it would not be worth the paper it was written on as HIQUA had their standards to be met.

John Hayes, HSE Chief Officer, Cavan/Monaghan/Sligo/Leitrim told the meeting that the HSE couldn’t operate a community hospital without the approval of HIQA. He added the HSE had carried out a technical assessment of St Joseph’s by Rhatigans ; that also applied to Lifford and Ramelton.

He said the HSE has applied for €3.5m to upgrade St Joseph’s. The meeting also heard that Ramelton had an application for an injection of €2.1m for its hospital.

Contributions from the floor

Meanwhile ,there were strong contributions from the floor in support of the retention of services in Lifford and Ramelton.

A Lifford speaker said they had no objections to a new build in Letterkenny and already had a new green field but wanted answers. He said they met Minister Daly and Minister Joe McHugh and it was not all down to “pounds and pence”; it was “down to humanity”. “It is down to old people being treated with respect,” he said.

But the most ominous contribution came from Stranorlar supporter Eamon O’Fearghail at the end of the meeting. He said the people were getting a lot of lies and obfuscation.

“Where is the money you are promising us and how are you going to achieve that for the job that needs to be done. Lest anybody up there think that this was a safety valve for politicians who come down from Dublin. That is certainly not the case as this will be a political issue at the next election, both local and national. The people are waiting to see what you are going to do.

“We want to see the colour of the money and if we don’t in the very short time span, we are going to have to up the ante. Minister Daly will get used to marching because there will be plenty of it around here. There will be tractorcades , a lot of things that we have never seen before. Because people need to be able to express and if we can’t do it politically we have been wasting our time for the last two years.

“We will have to do it another way so we will just guarantee you that if you don’t come up with the goods and keep our hospital supported by finance we will cause absolute mayhem here”.

READ: Anger as minister misses Donegal hospital debate