I am seeking certainty in respect of Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise. A plan was to be released in September 2015 regarding the future of the hospital but we have not yet seen that plan. However, there is a plan contained in what is described as the final draft of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group strategy for 2018 to 2013, which was given to me at the weekend. Last night a public meeting on the matter was held and up to 400 people attended. According to the letter sent with it, this plan was a final draft which was to be signed off on yesterday at a meeting of health managers at 2 p.m. in Dublin.
We now know what is in it but, unfortunately, what is in it is the end of emergency department services in Portlaoise. There will be no more emergency treatment in Portlaoise and trauma cases are to bypass Naas. The implications are serious. It is one of the busiest emergency departments outside of Dublin, having dealt with almost 40,000 people last year. The figure is further increasing this year, with more than 20,000 people in the first six months of the year using the unit. Where are these people to go if there is no emergency department between Tallaght and Limerick? Critically ill patients will be stuck in rush hour traffic on the N7. The other morning it took me three hours and five minutes to get from my house to the Dáil. The N7 is chock-a-block and not for one hour at rush hour. Rush hour now lasts for three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. It starts at 3 p.m. and sometimes is not finished until 7 p.m. How does Susan O'Reilly think the 40,000 patients will be moved about? Is it by helicopter? Will there be fleets of helicopters?
The meeting last night was attended by the public, hospital staff and consultants, and general practitioners. They are the experts and they are absolutely adamant that this will not work. There is no capacity in the system. This will lead to the collapse of paediatrics and maternity services in Portlaoise, which is a huge concern. Let me be clear that Dr. Fleming, a cardiologist in the hospital, said the problem is one of capacity and resources. It is not a specialist problem. This is the key point, and I want the Minister of State to take it on board. Susan O'Reilly was put in there to do a job, but the Minister of State and I are her paymaster as are the public on the street and the citizens of County Laois and surrounding counties that depend on the hospital. The Minister of State needs to get a grip on this issue. Do not outsource this responsibility to her. If she signed off on this yesterday, get it and put it in the shredder.
On Tuesday, I raised the issue with the Government.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, who was standing in for the Taoiseach, informed me the Government had no intention of closing the emergency department in the Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise. Intentions can change, however. The emergency department must not be closed and services must not be downgraded or reduced. The proposals are unacceptable and unworkable. We need a firm and clear commitment that the hospital will not be downgraded and its emergency department will not be closed. We want a plan to upgrade the hospital.
I have neighbours who work in the emergency department of Portlaoise hospital and I am in touch with other staff at the hospital. I have also been in and out of the hospital with people over the years. Staff are doing their level best and should get medals for the work they do. Hospital managers all over the country, including in Portlaoise hospital, will tell the Minister that it is not possible to recruit and retain specialist staff without certainty. We need certainty but more than two years have been spent messing around with these plans, which arose from a review announced by the previous Government in 2011. Roscommon hospital was a casualty of that review and County Laois will not be another casualty. These plans will not wash. No one from a Government party will be elected in the county for a decade if they proceed.