Harris criticised for delay over Portlaoise hospital 'downgrade' decision

Dr Fergal Hickey argues that Portlaoise "could be busier than ever" with different work if the emergency department is scaled back

Harris criticised for delay over Portlaoise hospital 'downgrade' decision

Photo: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

The Health Minister is being criticised for a delay in downgrading Portlaoise Hospital.

Simon Harris was given an expert report at the end of last year, which is understood to have recommended that emergency services at the facility be scaled back.

No decision on the recommendation has yet been made, however.

Dr Fergal Hickey is the Communications Officer with the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine.

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, he argued that Portlaoise is unsafe.

Dr Hickey said: "In 2015, HIQA wrote a very damning report on Portlaoise and raised serious concerns about safety, governance and a load of other issues.

"In that, they quoted from an unpublished HSE report from 2014, where national clinical leads [...] visited the hospital. They recommended very strongly that the hospital move from being what's called a 'model 3' to a 'model 2' hospital."

He explained: "It would no longer have a 24 hour emergency department, although it would have an injury unit which would be 8am to 8pm. It would also lose its intensive care unit."

He says that a revised injury unit could deal with around three-quarters of what Portlaoise can currently deal with - but says that the hospital will in fact be able to offer additional services as a result of the change.

"Portlaoise could be busier than ever"

Dr Hickey used Roscommon hospital as a point of contrast, as its emergency department was 'downgraded' in 2011.

"The irony is that Roscommon is busier than ever doing different work," he observed. "Portlaoise could be busier than ever doing different work - it just will be that it won't do as much acute work.

"There's an enormous amount of diagnostics, ambulatory care, day surgery, endoscopy and so on that could be done in a hospital like Portlaoise."

He added that the current situation is 'the worst of all worlds'.

"There's a very clear recommendation from the hospital group to the minister, and it requires the minister to do something about it [...] The minister is avoiding the decision."

For those who may object to the downgrading of the hospital, Dr Hickey says the hospital currently finds it very difficult to recruit and retain consultants and specialists.

"There isn't the continuity of care that is required," he told Shane. "[Portlaoise] has a hospital in name, but doesn't have the clinical staff with the appropriate experience on an ongoing basis to retain their skills."