I should like to share my time with my colleague, Deputy McGahon on the other side of the House because the closure of a ward in Louth County Hospital is an issue about which we feel very strongly. It involves 28 beds and five cots in the male surgical ward in that hospital.
Circumstances arose recently in which members of the North-Eastern Health Board were not informed — I want to protest about that fact here in the only forum available to me — as to what was proposed. That was not right and we should have been informed at the first available opportunity.
As I understand it the saving being made by a ward closure, according to figures given to me some time ago, in one month is £20,000. I find it ludicrous that a ward should be closed with the consequent trauma created in the minds of the public, particularly in the minds of people who feel that in some way the hospital is being downgraded. If the saving involved amounts to £20,000 only then it should be ascertained whether there is a better way of saving such money rather than taking this drastic step.
Deputy McGahon and I have been approached by people in recent weeks who are concerned about what is happening in the hospital. For example, over the past weekend a woman came to me whose husband had been rushed to Louth County Hospital. Her husband's life had been saved in that he had been in a life-threatening condition. That woman remarked that it would be awful if the hospital was closed, the perception being that, because the ward is being closed, albeit for a number of months, ultimately the hospital will be closed.
I thank the Minister for coming to listen to what Deputy McGahon and I have to say. A number of people are extremely worried and the case I instanced is just one example. I have heard of another case, perhaps the most ludicrous of all, of a VHI patient who was willing to pay — she was due to have an urgent hysterectomy — having to go across the Border where that operation was performed today in Newry. That patient could not obtain a bed in Louth County Hospital. She was quite willing to pay for a bed, she could not get one which meant the VHI money went outside this State to Newry.
I appeal to the Minister to examine this matter carefully. I know he is aware of the position and will come to Louth in the near future to discuss it. On previous occasions the Minister admitted that the North-Eastern Health Board incur the lowest per capita spending on health nationwide. We should like to know why. I am told there is a historical reason.