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Referral restrictions must be reviewed for Belmullet Hospital – Conway-Walsh


Sinn Féin Senator Rose Conway-Walsh
Minister states there will be no downgrade ‘on his watch’

Áine Ryan

REVIEWING the restrictions around the referrals procedure to Belmullet Community Hospital that GPs must follow is key to resolving the ongoing issues there. That is according to Sinn Féin Senator Rose Conway-Walsh who, while welcoming the upcoming visit on July 2 of Minister for State at the Department of Health Jim Daly, has strongly criticised the Government’s attitude to the Sláintecare policy which stipulates the primacy of care in the community.
Minister Michael Ring confirmed in a statement last week that he had been reassured by Minister Daly, ‘the hospital would not be downgraded on his watch’ and that he had accepted his invitation to visit the hospital and ‘to personally assess the situation and to talk to patients and staff’.    
Speaking to The Mayo News yesterday, Senator Conway-Walsh said: “My fear about Belmullet Hospital is that it has been orchestrated that the beds aren’t filled because the referrals are so restricted. If somebody presents to their GP and he thinks the person needs professional medical care but not acute hospital care, they cannot be referred to Belmullet Hospital  first. So he must send them to an emergency department  for a triage procedure. However, they must spend at least a night in the acute hospital before they can be transferred to Belmullet.”
“I welcome the fact that Minister Daly is coming down on July 2 but I thought he could be here a lot sooner to give this issue priority. I want him to deal with the restrictions around the referrals which would also help free-up beds in acute hospitals’ waiting lists and over-crowding. Any hospital is going to need a certain amount of agency care so a blanket ban on agency care is making hospitals unworkable,” she said.  
The senator argued that not only should all 20 beds be operational in Belmullet but that the Government should return the capacity to 40 beds as was the case before the last Fianna Fáil Government drastically reduced the beds. She added that any plan ‘to operate at just 12 or 13 beds in Belmullet’ will not work.
Ms Conway-Walsh also welcomed the extension for another month of the contracts of three of the agency staff. They were due to expire at the end of June.

Minister’s commitment to hospital
SPEAKING last week, Minister Ring said: “There is no question of beds being cut if they are being used. If the demand is there, the beds will be kept open and the staff will be allocated to staff the beds. However, as Minister Daly stated in Dáil Éireann today, he will not stand over staff being allocated to empty beds,” he said.
“I am confident that Minister Daly will look at all options and keep an open mind in order to ensure a positive resolution of this matter. I have worked closely with Cllr Gerry Coyle on this issue and we will continue to work with Minister Daly to ensure that Belmullet Hospital continues to provide an excellent service to the people of Erris,” Minister Ring added.