Adjournment Debate. - Hospital Services.

I raise the important issue of the closure of the casualty department in Our Lady's Hospital, Manorhamilton, County Leitrim. It is ironic on the day after the health strategy was announced with great fanfare that the issue I must raise is not the downgrading but the closure of the casualty department of the only general hospital in County Leitrim.

The staff of Our Lady's Hospital have provided an excellent service to the people of north Leitrim over many years. Many doctors, nurses and other medical staff have worked tirelessly in this department of the hospital giving professional care. I want to know who has made the decision to close the casualty unit in this hospital. Was the decision made because the Government is not willing to provide the necessary funding to the North-Western Health Board to continue this important service? The decision to close the casualty unit will put the lives of many people in the north Leitrim area at risk. It is a serious problem which should not be allowed to occur by any health board or Government. It is not good enough.

Why should the people of Leitrim not receive the same service as the people in any other part of the country? This closure will have serious consequences for the health strategy being pursued by the Government. I raised this issue by way of parliamentary question on 25 October but I have not received a reply from the North-Western Health Board. The Minister's reply stated that the chief executive of the health board would investigate the position and would reply to me but, as of this date, I have not received a reply. That is not good enough. This issue is very serious and is not being treated with due urgency by the Department or the health board.

I ask the Minister to provide the necessary funding immediately to the health board if that is what is required to reopen a fully staffed casualty department in Our Lady's Hospital, Manorhamilton, and to provide the service to the people of north Leitrim in particular they are entitled to.

On behalf of the Minister for Health and Children I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I remind him that the North-Western Health Board is responsible for the provision of services at the hospital. If it is the case that his question was not fully answered that will be followed up. The Minister understands from the board that the unit at the hospital to which the Deputy refers has not been closed.

That is not true.

For many years now Our Lady's Hospital has provided a minor injuries unit for the local community. This unit never operated, however, as a full casualty or accident and emergency service as it would be understood in a modern context in such locations, for example, as the accident and emergency departments at Sligo or Letterkenny general hospitals. The service has, therefore, effectively been confined to the provision of care for patients with minor injuries from the local community.

Patients who require further intervention and treatment have been, and will continue to be, referred to the most appropriate location for care and treatment which is usually the accident and emergency department at Sligo General Hospital. In emergencies where an ambulance response is indicated, patients are transported directly to Sligo General. The North-Western Health Board is committed to continuing the provision of a minor injuries unit at the hospital. To this end, it is currently formalising protocols with the consultant in accident and emergency medicine at Sligo General Hospital which will ensure that the status of the service is fully defined.

The service currently operates and will continue to operate as follows. All patients presenting are seen and assessed – triaged – in the unit by a qualified nurse on a 24 hour basis in line with practice in most accident and emergency departments. Patients requiring minor treatments are treated on site where possible. Patients who require further intervention and treatment are currently referred to Sligo General Hospital and medical back-up is available on a 24 hour on-call basis. It is anticipated that additional consultant medical staff in accident and emergency medicine will be appointed to Sligo General Hospital in 2002 which will facilitate the enhancement of the accident and emergency service at Sligo General and of the minor injuries unit at Our Lady's Hospital.

On a point of order—

There are no points of order on the Adjournment Debate.

The Minister stated that the unit is not closed and that is incorrect. It is not fair to provide incorrect information to the House.