With the budget approaching there was more speculation last week that the future of district hospitals in Ballina, Swinford and Belmullet could be threatened by bed closures.
Minister for Health Dr James Reilly said that bed closures may also have to be considered at community nursing homes, fuelling fears for such institutions as MacBride Community Nursing Unit, Westport; The Sacred Heart Hospital, Castlebar; St Fionnan’s CNU, Achill; St Augustine’s Community Nursing Unit, Ballina, and D’Alton Community Nursing Unit. These homes currently have a combined total of 305 beds.
Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Michael Ring has played down speculation surrounding possible bed closures in the county. He said the upcoming appointment of a Director of Nursing at the MacBride Community Nursing Unit in Westport indicates that medical facilities in the county are being maintained.
Cllr Austin Francis O’Malley the chairman of the HSE West’s hospitals committee has said he is extremely disappointed by the HSE’s inadequate communication regarding the threat of bed closures. Speaking to The Mayo News he made specific reference to the uncertainty surrounding Ballina District Hospital, which may see its female wing, comprised of 25 beds, close in February.
“I blame the HSE for not notifying me or keeping me informed,” Cllr O’Malley said, adding that it was ‘not good enough’ and that he would discuss his concerns with HSE West Local Health Manager Frank Murray on December 19 at an Oireachtas meeting.
The Louisburgh native said, “February looks like being D-Day for implementing this. I have asked the Minister for Health to look again at front-line services – they promised that front-line services would not be affected.
Cllr O’Malley also said the issue of recruitment must be addressed immediately: “Staff are retiring and going out of the system and because of that the [recruitment] embargo is having an adverse effect. The embargo should be lifted and the Government should be trying to get money from somewhere else.”
Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin has said she has held discussions with Minister for Health James Reilly, and she acknowledged that due to staffing problems the HSE may have no option but to agree to these measures on a temporary basis.
Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary has called upon the four Fine Gael Deputies for Mayo to rigorously defend the county’s community nursing homes and district hospitals.
He said, “In light of various statements and rumours that have been circulating for the past week or so I am obviously extremely concerned for the future of Mayo’s five community nursing homes and our district hospitals in Ballina, Belmullet and Swinford … I am particularly calling upon Deputy Mulherin to defend St. Joseph’s District Hospital in Ballina.”
At last Wednesday’s Ballina Town Council meeting there was a strong sense of shock and anger that the hospital, which caters for 62 patients, may be under threat due to the possible closures of the female unit. The Mayor of Ballina, Cllr Peter Clarke said that if the unit were to be shut down, it would be “a matter of time before the hospital closes in full.”