I thank the Minister of State for his presence and I look forward to hearing his response which I hope refers to the continuation of an adequate casualty service at Our Lady's Hospital, Manorhamilton, County Leitrim. That hospital serves the catchment area of north Leitrim, west Cavan and much of mid and south Leitrim as there is no proper accident and emergency service in the county.
Less than two weeks ago a notice was placed on the door of Our Lady's Hospital which stated that casualty was closed. I lived in Manorhamilton for 11 years, during which time my family was able to access the casualty service at the hospital when faced with life-threatening crises. If I lived in Manorhamilton now that would not be the case, which is shocking. Those who live there and in surrounding areas no longer have access to a proper accident and emergency service. The Minister of State knows that you cannot put a price on such access.
Before I came to the House, I had another look at the health strategy proposed by the Government. It has four goals, including fair access and responsive and appropriate care delivery. In the strategy we are told that the patient is at the centre of planning care delivery and that its underlying principle is to provide the right care in the right place at the right time. For the people of north Leitrim the right care is a continuation of the accident and emergency service which was in place until two weeks ago. The right place is Our Lady's Hospital in Manorhamilton and the right time is now. I understand that this is not a simple matter. I have been in contact with the chief executive officer of the North-Western Health Board who has outlined the difficulties faced by the board in trying to maintain the service. I am not being unrealistic and unreasonable when I say that difficulties must be dealt with, issues must be faced and problems must be solved.
I understand that the Irish Medical Council has issued new national guidelines and policies which dictate the circumstances in which junior doctors can operate in casualty units. The council has legitimate concerns, but while it has a very important role to play in ensuring the service is competent and professional, it is just one of the participants in this service. If, as the health strategy states, we must have the right care in the right place at the right time, the buck stops with the Minister.
Rather than simply complain or accept that the doors have closed for good, I wish to put forward a workable suggestion. I propose that the service be maintained at Our Lady's which deals with life-threatening conditions and emergencies by stabilising patients before sending them by ambulance to Sligo General Hospital. This will have the effect of providing a service in Manorhamilton while taking some of the pressure off the casualty service in Sligo.
I call on the Minister and the North-Western Health Board to do everything possible to ensure that staff in Manorhamilton get the maximum training from consultants in Sligo to deal with life-threatening crises, such as, for example, the administration of the thrombolytic drug scheme, whereby heart attack patients can be stabilised, thus significantly increasing their chances of survival.
I call on the Minister to use his best efforts and negotiating skills to ensure that the notice which appeared on the door of Manorhamilton hospital two weeks ago, stating "Casualty Closed", will be removed and that he will reinstate the service.