I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this very important issue both for the people I represent in County Monaghan and myself. For the past 30 years the people of Monaghan have had the dark cloud of an impending hospital closure hanging over their heads. In the 1980s, the Minister for Health at the time, Barry Desmond, used the famous phrase that he wanted to close and dispose of the hospital. That was not what we wanted then and it is certainly not what I want now.
I want to see an enhanced role for the hospital in Monaghan in providing services which it is competent in delivering and which the people would have faith in using. Monaghan's medical unit is second to none under the expert guidance of the consultant, Dr. McMahon, and it should continue to provide such services.
I have no objection to changing for the better and standing still is not an option. If change is something to be embraced and not feared, it must be managed properly. Since I was elected and before that, I have believed that in order to effect change in a real way one has to work within the system. However, the level of engagement and consultation with the HSE has been disgraceful and with the proposed changes as of 22 July, the level of meaningful discussion has been unacceptable.
I never at any time made promises on the hospital which I felt I could not deliver and I always knew this would be an uphill battle. Nevertheless I pledged to do my best. Although I was tempted many times to use the media to create the impression of over-the-top activity on my behalf, I never chose to do so. I regret that the system has failed me and the HSE has moved on without any involvement or input from me.
Since being elected I have endeavoured to do my best and I will continue to do so. The proposed measure as the HSE sees it is "a replacement with a safer, superior alternative" but I do not see it that way. The HSE are masters at changing the goalposts when it suits.
The medical assessment unit in Cavan is working well but there is chaos in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, with patients on trolleys and long waiting times for assessment and admissions. There was nobody on a trolley in Cavan yesterday or today but Drogheda is more than making up for that. There are patients on trolleys today and there were patients on trolleys yesterday. I can guarantee that there will be patients on trolleys tomorrow. Is that a better service? I think not.
I have always been consistent in saying that systems must be in place, bedded in, tried and tested so that people can have confidence in any newly reconfigured services. I am disappointed that over the past few weeks there has been much political game playing and scurrilous personal attacks; there is no place for such abuse in any debate. I regret that we came to that level.
Tonight I appeal to the HSE not to proceed as proposed on 22 July as it is too soon. Not everything is in place and there has been a lack of consultation and engagement by the HSE. It has not had the full benefit of the wisdom of GPs and Dr. McMahon and other stakeholders. If the HSE treats the GPs in the same manner as the elected representatives, it is no wonder it has no engagement.
My major fear is that the HSE will not have all its i's dotted and t's crossed by 22 July and something will go wrong to compromise patient care and safety. I will hold Professor Brendan Drumm and the management of the transformation team in the north east responsible and accountable for any failings or shortcomings that have a negative impact on any patient. I guarantee that I will watch their every move every step on the way.