Hospital’s future must be secured

August 14th, 2021 5:10 PM

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IT seems that as soon as one staffing crisis is averted at Bantry General Hospital (BGH), another one – at least – rears its head. Like a medical Hydra, similar to the Greek mythical monster that grew two heads for every one that was chopped off, there seems no end to the problems in West Cork’s biggest hospital.

And far from being a maligned institution, it is the very esteem in which BGH is held in the community, that leads to the huge effort to support it locally.

Almost every family in the region has had some reason to visit it, and the commitment and kindness of staff has never failed to impress. And like all good organisations, when the chips are down, is when its real mettle shows through.

Through the worst days of Covid, the staff could not have been more considerate or thorough, and despite the obvious sense that they are the forgotten heroes of the health sector, their spirit and enthusiasm shines through.

The fact that so many people stood in the rain last Sunday, to attend yet another ‘protest meeting’ about the future of their hospital, shows the importance of its role in the community.

While other counties have bowed to the persistent pressure to centralise their healthcare, the people of West Cork have fought, for decades now, to keep their services close by.

There is good reason for this – the region is one of Ireland’s most remote and being part of the country’s biggest county, the travel distances are staggering.

From the base of the Beara peninsula to CUH in Wilton is a journey of over 140km and taking well over two hours, in ideal conditions. Imagine an emergency patient needing to make this journey in the depths of winter, even without any obstruction or traffic issues along the route. This week’s climate change report predicts more violent storms and more flooding for coastal areas like Ireland’s, so winter driving conditions are not going to be improving any time soon.

Add to that the fact that Cork has some of the most treacherous road networks in the country, and an ambulance service which a whistleblower recently described as being ‘in crisis’, and you begin to understand why BGH is such a sensitive issue in West Cork. Add to that also, if you will, the fact that what could be a literal lifesaver for the region – the relatively new air ambulance – is constantly begging for funding from public sources, due to the lack of proper support from government.

It was tasked to 490 incidents across 13 counties, during its first full year in operation in 2020 – many of these incidents would have much worse outcomes without it. We need more air ambulances, never mind just trying to secure the one we have.

The people of West Cork are no longer willing to take on board politicians’ promises to secure the future of BGH. They have heard it all before. They want action, they want results, and they don’t want to waste any more time waiting.

Talk is cheap and it doesn’t save lives.

Any politicians making promises now about securing the future of this much-loved institution better be sure they can deliver on them. The electorate may have a short memory when it comes to many issues, but past experience has shown that when it comes to healthcare and especially life-saving services, some promises will never be forgotten.

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