This matter relates to Dungloe Community Hospital in County Donegal, a publicly funded HSE community hospital that provides essential day care services and both long and short-stay beds, which are needed by the elderly population of west Donegal, which includes Árainn Mhór, which has the most elderly population in the country. Given its location, it is crucially important the hospital is fully supported given the increased demand for beds at the hospital.
The hospital was established in 1958 and has served the community exceptionally well since then thanks in no small way to the staff who work in it, both retired and current. At present, according to HSE figures, there are 16 long-stay beds in the hospital and 19 short-stay beds, a total of 35 beds. That is a reduction of ten beds in recent times, which has affected the capacity of the hospital to provide essential respite care and longer stay care for those in transition from hospital treatment or who may require accommodation in the nursing unit.
This issue has been raised by the local community at a public meeting.
A public meeting was held on the issue and heard serious concerns from members of the community. The problem boils down to one issue. While I do not question the Health Service Executive's commitment to the long-term future of the hospital, the moratorium on the recruitment of staff has resulted in a lack of full support to the hospital. In the past four to six weeks, long-term sick leave among staff has increased and other staff members have retired or gone on planned maternity leave. The moratorium does not allow the HSE or hospital management to fill the vacant positions. The Department must step in and allow some degree of flexibility to enable a recruitment process to proceed to replace staff on sick leave or maternity leave as well as those who have retired.
The Health Information and Quality Authority will not allow any more than 35 beds to be occupied under current staffing levels. The facility has been well maintained and developed and in 2010 it benefited from an investment of between €500,000 and €600,000. The issue at the hospital is entirely one of staffing.
While the Health Service Executive may have the option of using agency staff, recruiting staff is a no-brainer in terms of the drain the agency option places on Exchequer resources. Some degree of flexibility must be provided to allow community hospitals such as the facility in Dungloe to replace staff who are on sick leave or maternity leave, even if only for a short period. It does not make sense that demand for services cannot be met because staff shortages cannot be addressed as a result of the moratorium on recruitment.
The Minister of State is aware of the issue I raise. The Department must show flexibility if this problem is to be resolved, not only in Dungloe Community Hospital but other hospitals in a similar position. The moratorium on recruitment in the public sector must be reviewed to meet the needs of patients in such hospitals. This must be done quickly because patients and their families are being forced to avail of alternative services, both private and public, outside their catchment area. In this case, the catchment area is a Gaeltacht area. I hope the Minister of State has some good news. The Government must give a commitment to address this important local issue.