I wish to share time with Senator Glynn. I thank the Cathaoirleach for permitting me to the raise this important matter. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Michael Finneran, who ably served as a Member of this House.
I ask the Minister for Health and Children to comment on the reduction in the number of acute beds in Mullingar Regional Hospital and indicate her intentions with regard to rewarding the most efficient hospitals in the country in the context of annual case mix adjustments.
The status of Mullingar Regional Hospital is a major cause of concern to people in counties Longford and Westmeath, the staff and patients of the hospital and those who have worked diligently to make it one of the most efficient hospitals in the country in the context of the annual case mix adjustment. There are major concerns that the Health Service Executive is pursuing a policy to downgrade the status of this fine hospital. We have been informed that 41 acute beds are to be closed. I am horrified that the decision to close these beds was taken without discussions with the consultant physicians charged with the care of patients. Physicians, nurses and other staff are greatly concerned that the number of beds being closed is grossly excessive and disproportionate. This decision will cause them immense problems in providing an acceptable level of care to patients. I am appalled that the HSE failed to engage in discussions with hospital staff before making its decision.
We are entering the winter months when more, not fewer, acute beds are needed. It is beyond comprehension that the HSE plans to close 41 acute beds at such a critical time and in a hospital with regional status. This is extraordinary behaviour and I fear the measure is part of a covert plan to downgrade a great hospital. Mullingar Regional Hospital has been one of the top ranking, best performing hospitals in recent years. In 2008 it broke even in terms of expenditure. The staff of the hospital consistently achieve high standards of care and efficiency, a fact which the Minister for Health and Children and Health Service Executive have not acknowledged. Instead, when the hospital was due to receive €2 million because of its case mix efficiency, it received only €500,000. I want to know why money due to Mullingar Hospital was diverted elsewhere. I also want to know why the Minister and the HSE have failed to reward the hospital as promised.
The Minister for Health and Children stood in this House and gave a commitment that the hospitals which performed best would be rewarded. I call on her to stand by the commitment she gave here and for Mullingar Regional Hospital to be rewarded for being the most efficient hospital in Ireland and the second best hospital in terms of hygiene and cleanliness. The high standards and excellent work in the hospital are a credit to Trevor O'Callaghan and the administrative staff of the hospital
We are fortunate in Mullingar Regional Hospital to have a complement of consultant physicians including Professor Sean Murphy, and an excellent clinical director, Dr. Ron Charles, who, together with their respective teams, have set up a stroke unit and have a medical assessment unit which is admired by the midlands and treats more than 180 people per month. This unit is visited by the staff of hospitals from all over the country. Our consultants are also working hard to establish an intervention cardiology unit where services can be provided and stents inserted without patients having to travel to Dublin. Where is the recognition for this commitment and hard work?
The HSE's statement that 13 additional day beds are to be made available from Monday to Friday for elective procedures is absurd. These 13 beds will be of no practical use to patients requiring emergency admissions. As the population is increasing in midland areas and the hospital is adjacent to Dublin, and with the difficulties being experienced in counties Longford and Westmeath we should be increasing the number of acute beds.
As a former member of the health board, as was Senator Glynn, I and other colleagues including the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, got a categoric assurance from the Department of Health and Children when Longford Hospital closed that Mullingar Regional Hospital's services and facilities would be sacrosanct and suitable for a hospital serving two counties. This was a commitment made to the people of County Longford and I want to put on the record it is a commitment which we have not forgotten.
I call on the Minister to urge the HSE management team and relevant bodies to enter talks with the physicians, nurses and administrative staff in the hospital and endeavour to reach agreement on an allocation of acute beds which would be safer, fairer and which would satisfy the growing needs of the wider community. I acknowledge the funding of €20 million which has been given by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, for the shelled-out building which stood for 12 years, which included funding of €5 million for finishing and fitting out level O.