I thank you for allowing me to raise this very important matter and also thank the Minister for making himself available at such short notice. In raising the question of the appointment of a paediatrician to Portlaoise General Hospital I am merely endeavouring to reflect the views and concerns of the people of Laois and others outside the county who for many years have been using the facilities at the hospital.
Over the past three years we have developed the hospital to general hospital status and have developed in a very advanced way the obstetrical and gynaecological services as part of that overall development. The only outstanding speciality is the provision of paediatric services. Credit for the development of specialities and for the excellent standard of care is due to the surgeons and consultants and the dedication of the nursing and domestic staff who are working under rather difficult conditions due to the general understaffing of the hospital.
Credit is due also to the CEO of the Midland Health Board and the members of that board who, despite very severe financial restrictions, through their prudent management have maintained services at the highest possible level. From the moment the decision was taken to upgrade our hospital to the status of a general hospital, which by implication means the provision of the widest possible range of specialities, the health board under their chairman, backed by the hospital staff at all levels, worked extremely hard to bring the hospital to its present stage of development. The final stage of development programme was the establishment of a paediatric unit. This unit was refused by Comhairle na nOspidéal in 1979 but under pressure from Members of this House and from the then Minister for Health, Deputy Woods, as well as the united voice of the people of County Laois, the comhairle agreed subject to certain conditions to the provision of a department of paediatrics to be shared by Portlaoise and Tullamore. This plan would envisage a resident paediatrician in both hospitals, with a third consultant providing cover for the two hospitals. For both Laois and Offaly this was an excellent arrangement and it was accepted fully by the people of County Laois.
The conditions laid down by An Chomhairle were that Portlaoise would develop the structural facilities for the unit and immediately the health board responded with the erection in Portlaoise of a new purpose-built paediatric unit — one of the most modern, may I say, in the entire country. All the conditions for the establishment of the unit had now been completed, with the board and staff accepting, in a responsible manner, that due to the embargo on public sector recruitment the post could not immediately be filled. They went about their task of providing the highest possible level of service and patient care in the hospital and were content to wait for the appointment which they understood was coming. Then came the bombshell. The Minister for Health, Deputy Barry Desmond, was present at the Labour Party Conference at Portlaoise on Tuesday, 20 March. Members of his party asked him the obvious question — when the paediatric post would be filled at Portlaoise. I now quote fromThe Nationalist and Leinster Times of 6 April:
Mr. Desmond told the conference that it was intended to appoint the paediatrician to the health board at Tullamore. There would, he said, be no paediatrician at Tullamore and Portlaoise, in other words that there would be duplication of services.
I do not want to display any discourtesy to the Minister by reading from that paper the comments which followed from the members of his own party at that conference. It was natural that the Labour Party members in Laois would react as they did to that startling announcement. It was also natural that the people of Laois, having read that report, reacted as they did. It is only natural that I, as one of their public representatives, reacted as I did by immediately tabling a Dáil question. On 3 April 1984 I asked the Minister for Health the following question:
If he would confirm that a paediatrician is to be appointed to the General Hospital, Portlaoise, and how soon that appointment will be made.
The Minister's reply was as follows:
The Midland Health Board submitted a proposal in August last year indicating the financial implications of creating a paediatrician post at Portlaoise General Hospital. This proposal is still under consideration in my Department. Approval of the post will, however, be primarily a matter for Comhairle na nOspideél, who have responsibility for the numbers and types of consultant appointments in the health services.
It is not possible for the Minister to state when a decision will be made on this proposal.