I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me an opportunity to raise this important issue this evening. A statement issued by the HSE on 12 May last, in which plans for a reduction in non-consultant hospital doctors were announced, will have consequences for services in Roscommon, Portiuncula and Mullingar hospitals. It is clear from discussions with health management and professionals that a perfect storm is being allowed to develop by the HSE, in order to facilitate the implementation of the Hanly report by means of a hatchet. The HSE is referring to this as "reconfiguration". It involves the transfer, over time, of accident and emergency and surgery services from Roscommon and Portiuncula hospitals to the University College Hospital in Galway. It will also involve the closure of the local maternity unit in Ballinasloe, which is the only maternity unit in the country to be accredited as a "baby-friendly" hospital.
The HSE is using the shortage of non-consultant hospital doctors and the introduction of the EU working time directive as a means of downgrading services at Portiuncula and Roscommon hospitals. This staffing issue is threatening the operation of the accident and emergency departments at both hospitals, which currently operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The overnight downgrading of these hospital services, without planning, will result in loss of life locally. Foreign non-consultant hospital doctors are not coming to Ireland for a number of reasons. Red tape and the short duration of visas represent a major part of the problem. This is not something that has happened overnight. It is only now, at the 11th hour, that the Government has started to discuss the issue and to try to resolve the problem. It did not become a priority for the Government until it started to realise not only that it will affect the smaller hospitals, as secretly planned, but also that it will threaten the operation of the major regional centres. This is a deliberate act of national sabotage.
The management of the HSE claims that it will provide a better and safer service and that non-emergency work will be transferred from the regional centres, such as the University College Hospital Galway, UCHG, to the local hospitals. While some people in the Ballinasloe area may be naive enough to believe this, the people of Roscommon have seen the HSE renege on previous commitments. The HSE claimed all surgeons appointed to the amalgamated departments of surgery at Portiuncula and Roscommon would be joint appointments. We now find out that the Roscommon hospital has been air-brushed from these surgical contracts and the posts will be shared between University College Hospital Galway, and Portiuncula. Eventually, these particular surgeons will be relocated to Galway city.
The people of Roscommon were told by the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran, that they either use or lose their hospital, yet no funds have been provided to upgrade the sterilisation facilities to ensure additional procedures could be performed in the hospital. In the past four years not one patient has been put through Roscommon County Hospital under the National Treatment Purchase Fund even though the hospital has the capacity and no waiting lists.
Roscommon was promised additional out-patient clinics. Instead, the HSE has reduced the number of clinics that take place at the hospital. On 23 April, at a meeting with local public representatives in Portiuncula Hospital, HSE management informed them the super-manager would not be appointed until the end of the year at the earliest. Yet, less than a month later, the HSE made an announcement of an appointment without any notice. I understand the individual in question is a consultant radiologist, Mr. David O'Keeffe, based in UCHG. His appointment will cover six acute hospitals, community services and long-stay hospitals in an area that takes three hours to travel across, more than it takes to travel from Dublin to Cork.
While I have no doubt that Mr. O'Keeffe is a fine individual, with all due respect to him, we do not need another Brendan Drumm Óg to do the Government's dirty work in implementing the Hanly report.
Will the Minister of State clarify what will happen to accident and emergency services in Portiuncula and Roscommon hospitals? What is the secret intention behind the establishment of this new super-manager and the reneging on previous commitments regarding future services?