I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this issue. It has just come to my attention that there is a proposal before the Health Service Executive to reform the HSE regions for administrative purposes. Apparently all the regions will be restored to their former status, with the exception of the north west. I request further information on this proposal. Specifically, I want to know why it is proposed that the north west should be the only region not to be re-established.
The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, said she planned to achieve more effective changes in the organisational structure of the HSE, and I agree fully with her on this. I am a former member of the North-Western Health Board and have first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of the regionalised system. The North-Western Health Board area was, I believe, one of the most effective in the country. Staff there were dedicated, efficient and conscientious, with a genuine concern for those using the services. I agree that there are major benefits to be gained from regionalising the areas for administrative purposes. It will ensure more accountability and speed up many of the processes. Local staff have the benefit of knowledge of the area they work in and this can mean better and more efficient results for the public, which is what we are all trying to achieve across the health system.
Why, then, is the north-west area being denied this change? Why is it proposed that it be the only area not to be reinstated? Why has there been no consultation with Oireachtas Members or, at the very least, information provided to them regarding this plan? In my constituency, Sligo-North Leitrim, there is a state of the art facility in Manorhamilton, just a few miles from Sligo. There is no shortage of skilled workers in the area. A top class management structure has in place in the north west for a long time.
A meeting was held recently between Oireachtas Members from Sligo, Leitrim and east Mayo with consultants and other doctors at Sligo General Hospital in relation to cancer services. We were requested to organise a meeting with the Minister and Professor Keane. I am glad to say that the meeting will take place on Thursday. I hope everybody will go into that meeting with an open mind to try to resolve, once and for all, a difficult situation in the Sligo and north-west region. All we want, ultimately, are the best treatments and outcomes for our people.
Following the meeting with the consultants, who gave Oireachtas Members a very comprehensive briefing, it emerged that there were nearly 7,000 outpatient clinic appoints at Sligo General Hospital in 2008. I implore everybody to go in with a very open mind and, hopefully, we shall have a resolution to what is a very difficult situation.