I wish to share one minute of my time with Senator Mullen.
I thank the Minister for being here and I, too, will cut to the chase. I am sorry for being parochial, but I must be. Like Senator Feeney, I consider that the glass is always half-full, but the situation in the Athlone and Mullingar area services of the HSE is desperate. Only yesterday I received a reply from a consultant whom I had asked to expedite a hip replacement operation for a 75 year old lady, as she had been waiting for two years. He wrote to say he would if he had a bed, which he did not.
I also have very serious concerns. When our delegation met the Minister last week to discuss the moratorium on the filling of nursing posts, she stated five administration staff had to leave the service before she could employ another nurse. Most nurses are female and will at some point go on maternity or parental leave or retire. As such I am concerned about how we will keep beds open in Mullingar hospital if we do not have the required number of nursing staff. I ask the Minister to address the issue because HIQA is highlighting the serious issues with regard to agency staff.
While the overcrowding in Mullingar hospital last year had nothing to do with junior doctors, it is a major concern for them, a point that adds weight to Senator Dearey's comments regarding services in Louth. Some 4% of doctor posts in Mullingar hospital have not been filled this year. When the junior doctors rotate on 1 July, the figure will double and we will reap the rewards of the serious understaffing. Last Christmas, our accident and emergency department was closed because of overcrowding owing to 40 beds being removed from the system.
I am concerned about the constant niggling away at services in Mullingar hospital, which has won many awards. The Minister referred to hygiene awards, but we have won them all. She stated that hospitals would be rewarded for doing a good job. Mullingar hospital has done an excellent job, but we are constantly being downgraded. Our post mortem facilities were removed in recent months because we could not upgrade them to the tune of €250,000. Last week, someone told me how a relative's remains needed to go to Cavan for a post mortem because the services in Tullamore were full. This is not acceptable. We needed to fight to get a sexual assault unit for Mullingar hospital, but the possibility of moving it to Tullamore has been mooted. Tullamore does not even have gynaecological services. The unit is badly positioned in Mullingar hospital, there are no bathroom facilities and there is a staffing problem. Will the Minister address this issue?
We have spent much time thrashing out the serious issue of Loughloe House. I thank the Minister for listening to us and taking the time to meet our delegation last week. I accept her statement that fair care of the elderly was the way forward. It is a good system, but the closure of the nursing home in Athlone has led us to realise we have no respite service. This matter has not been addressed since our meeting one and a half weeks ago. All of the area's public representatives who attended a meeting with the mid-Leinster health forum yesterday supported keeping those care homes open. There is one in Mountmellick, Athlone, Longford and Mullingar.
I examined the configuration — a word the HSE uses often — of the membership of management at Naas General Hospital yesterday. I have never seen such a top-heavy room of managers. They each had a role, yet nothing was being done.
Some 15 people will be turfed out to sterile, cold places to which they do not want to go and will be separated from their friends. The money spent on re-accommodating them would keep them in Loughloe House until they died. There is no compassion for them. One old man has two dogs. Two ladies who are best friends, talk to each other and go to mass and prayer meetings together will be separated. It is morally wrong. I cannot stay quiet about it, although I am sorry for labouring the point. Of most importance is dignity and respect for the individual. We can never lose track of this point, regardless of economies of scale.