The people of Erris are very disturbed by the rumours emanating from the HSE regarding the closure of 20 beds in the hospital in Belmullet. Erris is as big as County Louth. The people of the area depend on their hospital but the embargo on staff recruitment is creating problems. I understand Deputy Flynn stated today on local radio that the embargo would be lifted next week. I would not set too much store by her word, because she told us cancer services would be saved but they left the county as well. Therefore, I would not put much credence in what she has said about the embargo. Perhaps she has been talking to the Minister for Finance, and, if she has, I welcome that.
The hospital in Belmullet has 40 beds. There are 22 full-time nursing staff and 25 support staff. Emigrants from Erris who went to America, England and all over the world have raised funding to support the hospital, the building and equipment and their loved ones who require care. They wanted to be reassured that if their mothers, fathers, brothers or sisters got sick that they would be able to go to that hospital. That is why they supported the hospital over the years. I would be appalled if the HSE management in Mayo were to take away any of those beds because of a shortage of staff. That would be wrong. It would be an outrage. I believe the embargo has already been lifted for staff in Ballina and Castlebar.
Erris has been treated badly by all Governments since the foundation of the State. It would be outrageous if it was to be affected by the removal of 20 beds from the hospital. If 20 beds are removed, the next thing is that the hospital in Belmullet will be closed down. That would be fought every step of the way by me, Gerry Coyle, the local councillor, all elected representatives in the area and the people of Erris. The ongoing gas dispute in Erris might not have full community support but this issue would generate full community support. Any attempt to close beds in the hospital would be fought every step of the way. I say to the Minister, hands off the Belmullet Hospital. Support the people of Erris. Give them their dues and make sure that the embargo is lifted next week so that the staff that are needed can be employed.
The Government has let down Mayo in respect of cancer services. It has let down the women of Mayo in respect of cancer services. This will not happen. It will be fought every step of the way. I call on the Government, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Calleary, Deputy Beverley Flynn and all the elected representatives of Mayo to fight this every step of the way. It would be an outrage if Erris, which is the size of County Louth, was to lose its hospital. Patients would have to travel 70 miles to Castlebar, 150 miles to Galway and more than 250 miles if they have to go to a hospital in Dublin. That would be a shame on the Government and the HSE.
I have written to Professor Brendan Drumm. His wife is from Erris. He liked Erris when he was picking a wife. Shame on Brendan Drumm. He would be letting down his wife and her family if he takes the service out of Erris. I call on the real Minister for Health and Children, Brendan Drumm, to ensure that this does not happen. There is no point talking to the Minister, Deputy Harney, because she has washed her hands of the health service. She would only say that it is not her responsibility; it is the responsibility of the HSE. I say to the management of the hospital that it is not to touch Erris or the Belmullet Community Hospital. That will not be allowed. It will be fought every step of the way.