00:00 Saturday 28 March 2009  Written by Ann Creedon

Hands off Bantry Hospital message from protesters

Approximately 2,000 people took to the streets of Bantry on last Saturday afternoon in a massive show of solidarity to support the retention of 24 hour surgical services at Bantry General Hospital.

As plans by the HSE to cut one million euro in the hospital budget loom, the hundreds of placards delivered the sentiments loud and clear with such messages as: "Cut your wages, not our hospital"; "Save our surgical services"; "Stop Bed Closures".

Friday the 13th had lived up to its gloomy reputation with the closure of four surgical beds. Our sources tell us that the plan is to close six further beds by the end of April, while 12 staff may lose their jobs.

Saturday's rally, in which the youth, the elderly and a huge representative showing from neighbouring towns and villages, as far away as South Kerry, took part and spelled out the message loud and clear, that the downgrading of Bantry General Hospital will not be accepted or tolerated; that the long-term viability of surgical services has to be ascertained; that we will not be faced with a five-days a week 9am to 5pm hospital; that we will not be forced to travel to and queue in Cork.

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According to local county councillor John O'Shea, "the only sustainable long-term solution is the appointment of a three-surgeon team, based in Bantry with two of them sharing with Cork hospitals". He continued "Today, the stakeholders, the people have spoken, and delivered a powerful message, health cuts hurt, hands off Bantry General Hospital. "I am delighted so many people turned out to show their support for the Hospital and the staff. The message is clear the people want 24-hour surgical cover retained at Bantry General Hospital".

"We have been told on many occasions that the views of all 'stake holders' will be sought. The message was delivered loud and clear today: 'Hands off our Hospital'.

"I hope the message delivered by the people of this region, the only stakeholders in this debate, will at last be taken on board by the decision makers", Mr. O'Shea concluded.

Ms. Patsy Doyle, Industrial Relations officer of the Irish Nurses' organisation was vociferous in her statement: "The decision", she said to close beds in Bantry Hospital and deny the West Cork public a safe and secure service if reprehensible".

She continued: "The Clinical accountability for this decision rests firmly with the executive management board, as clinicians and managers of the hospital, as INO members are adamant that full services are available in Bantry".

Speaking to The Southern Star, Ms. Doyle said: "We will also fight to retain nursing posts in Bantry as patients need nurses". She concluded: "We call on the HSE to re-open the acute beds and apportion a fair part of the §600m. Southern Acute Hospital Budget to Bantry General Hospital".

Labour Senator Michael McCarthy, in his message to Minister Mary Harney, was equally vocal: "I have seen no good reason from a financial point of view why these beds should be closed".

"Closing these beds will only make matters worse and will reduce the capacity of the hospital to deliver services to people who badly need them. Those bed closures can only result in patients being forced onto trolleys, or worse again, being turned away from the hospital".

"Myself and my Labour Party colleague, Cllr. Brendan Leahy, joined hundreds of people who took to the streets on Saturday to lend their support for the Friends of Bantry Hospital campaign to save the hospital. The hospital has formed an integral part of the healthcare services in West Cork for half a century, and any move to downgrade the facility will be resisted tooth and nail by the local community".

Chairman of "The Friends of Bantry Hospital, local Town Councillor, Tommy Barry, was overwhelmed by the huge support for the rally from all sectors of the community, from all politicians across the politicial divide, which also included Senator Denis O'Donovan, Paddy Sheehan TD, Danny Crowley MCC, Christy O'Sullivan TD, Mary Hegarty TC and Eugie Cronin, TC. and from the staunch support and numerous representatives who had travelled from all over the greater West Cork area in democratic fashion to make their voices heard.

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