A BANTRY GP has said that his biggest fear is that the decision to downgrade Bantry General Hospital (BGH) has already been agreed.
‘This is a genuine fear of mine,’ local GP Dr David Hurley, said.
‘Having spoken with Dr Michael Power (national clinical lead for the HSE Critical Care programme) and given his reticence to speak with us as a faculty, and his unwillingness to talk about plans by the HSE and the plans for Southwest group, my fear is that it my be a foregone conclusion.’
Dr Power was the doctor credited with corresponding with medical consultants last December, suggesting the hospital should be downgraded to a Model 2 hospital.
Speaking at the public meeting on Monday night, organised by the Bantry Hospital Users Action Group and attended by well over 550 people, as well as 10 of the 12 general election candidates, Dr Hurley said that it is vital that BGH retains its anaesthesiology department.
‘If anaesthetics cover is removed from BGH, then the hospital will lose its 24/7 care, as well as the 24/7 acute admissions and we will lose the ability to send very sick people to Bantry. They will have to go straight on to Cork city and the already over crowded A&E departments there,’ Dr Hurley said.
Chairing the packed meeting, David Dineen of the Bantry Hospital Users Action Group said that he was not surprised at the numbers of people who turned out to voice their opposition to any further degrading of the hospital’s services.
‘The most striking part of the meeting here tonight is listening to how much BGH means to the people of West Cork,’ Mr Dineen said.
‘The politicians, and we welcomed them here tonight, have all done their electioneering, but listening to doctors and the people who have all experienced the care and peace of mind that BGH provides them here in their communities only proves the importance that this hospital is not downgraded. In fact we want to see it upgraded.’
Dr Hurley added: ‘If Bantry General Hospital is downgraded and we lose 24/7 acute care, then we will be trying to manage patients by the side of the road waiting for ambulances.
‘And this is crucial. We will not be able to attract GPs to come and work in West Cork. GPs who are now being trained are either preparing to leave the country or they are staying in the cities, but they do not want to work in rural Ireland anymore. New GPs will not come to West Cork if they see that the nearest help is in Cork city at the CUH and not at BGH.’
There was a palpable sense of concern and fear at the meeting, held in the Maritime in Bantry, as person after person told their personal stories of how the staff at BGH helped loved ones and in some cases saved their lives.
Dr Paul O’Sullivan said: ‘BGH means that I have back-up. It means that I am not alone out there in the dark by the side of road. BGH means that if I send someone who is acutely unwell to the hospital, they have a fighting chance. Without BGH, the future of the GP service in West Cork is under threat.’
David Dineen added: ‘Healthcare is beyond politics and we need to create a future for our families in West Cork and we are not going to stop until BGH is safe and the services are enhanced.’
He said the public had been treated with ‘a staggering level of disrespect’ by the HSE.
‘They are making decisions without experiencing the actual situation here in West Cork. Well we are not going to allow BGH to be downgraded, and we will continue to fight for our hospital,’ he said.
There was some criticism earlier in the week after Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin released a statement pledging his support to keeping open the ‘Emergency Department’ at BGH, on a ‘24/7’ basis.
There is no emergency department at BGH.
Fine Gael candidate Cllr Karen Coakley said it showed an ‘utter lack of understanding’ of the situation in Bantry, a sentiment echoed by her running mate, Senator Tim Lombard.
Deputy Martin’s statement was issued following a plea from FF candidate and county mayor Christopher O’Sullivan, saying it would ‘really help Fianna Fáil’s campaign in Cork South West if you would issue a statement outlining your support for the retention of 24 hour acute emergency access at Bantry General Hospital.’
‘I’d really appreciate it,’ the mayor said, in an email to Deputy Martin.