Threat facing Bantry Hospital is very ‘real’ - and has increased - say medics

January 25th, 2020 8:02 PM

By Jackie Keogh

Nurses on a 24-hour picketline at Bantry General Hospital last January. But now there are fears that the hospital may be downgraded, forcing patients to travel to Cork for many services currently on offer in Bantry. (Photo: Andy Gibson)

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THE threat facing Bantry General Hospital is real and significantly greater than the hospital has faced before.
That’s the opinion of medical professionals who are seriously worried, despite HSE reassurances that it will remain ‘open seven days a week.’
The organisation, The Friends of Bantry Hospital, are similarly concerned and several new groups have been formed – including a group of GPs – to ‘save’ the hospital that serves a population of about 82,000 people.
An online petition has already amassed more than 5,000 signatures and West Cork politicians at a meeting of the Western Committee of Cork County Council have written to the Health Minister demanding that its future be safeguarded.
Cllr Declan Hurley (Ind), who is the chairman of The Friends of Bantry Hospital, said the same letter should be sent to Paul Reid, the CEO of the HSE, and to Gerry O’Dwyer who is the CEO of South/Southwest Hospital Groups.
‘Nothing short of a declaratory statement by one or both of these HSE officials saying that the hospital will continue to accept urgent medical admissions 24 hours a day, seven days a week, will satisfy,’ he said.
The councillor made the point that the HSE statement – which was issued by the communications consultants, Heneghan PR – was ‘misleading’ and ‘unsigned’ and that it could give anyone in the HSE ‘plausible deniability’ in the weeks and months to come.
Cllr Hurley referred to an email by Dr Michael Power, the national clinical lead for the HSE Critical Care programme, in which he referred to Bantry General Hospital making an orderly transition to a Model Two hospital.
The Independent councillor did not pull his punches when he asked: ‘Are the HSE talking out both sides of their mouth?’
The county mayor, Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan (FF) said he too feared the unsigned document was ‘trying to hoodwink the public’ and received an assurance from his party leader Micheál Martin that ‘Fianna Fáil has no intention of downgrading services at the hospital.’
The HSE statement says: ‘HSE management wishes to advise that there are no plans by the Health Service Executive to downgrade Bantry General Hospital.
‘Emergency services at BGH were reconfigured in 2013. At that time the emergency service was replaced with an Urgent Care Centre, which management can confirm there are no planned change to the Urgent Care Centre service.’ And the unit will ‘continue to operate seven days a week.’
But healthcare officials say that this statement does nothing to alleviate the fear that Bantry General Hospital will be reconfigured to a Model Two type hospital similar to Roscommon – a hospital that closes its doors at 5pm.
Currently, Bantry has a local injuries unit that is open from 8am to 8pm and is there for people who have fallen, have sustained cuts, or broken bones.
Currently, anyone with an urgent medical illness – a non-surgical illness that is – such as a suspected heart attack, stroke or pneumonia – can be dealt with at Bantry General Hospital on a 24-hour basis.
Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy (FF) said the health care professionals on the front line and so too should the people of West Cork.
‘Medics are interest in the health and welfare of their patients. We all know the geographical make-up of West Cork – we need a 24-hour service because it is not appropriate to send minor injuries to Cork and clog up the system there.’
There is, however, one exception to that and it is that anyone under the age of 16 have to be dealt with at a paediatric unit, which is not available at Bantry General Hospital.
Cllr Murphy said HSE officials think it’s just a 90-minute journey from Bantry to Cork, but there is another 90-minute journey beyond that to Beara. And he recalled how after his own accident it took him five hours to get from Eyeries to Cork by ambulance.
Cllr Joe Carroll (FF) complained that money is being dropped ‘like confetti’ on top of the new children’s hospital in Dublin, but West Cork is being forced to fight to retain its services.
Describing the feared changes as ‘potentially devasting,’ West Cork Independent TD, Michael Collins – who broke the story to The Southern Star – urged people to make ‘such a show of strength that the HSE will be in no doubt that any move to downgrade the hospital will not be tolerated.’
He too was critical of the statement issued by the HSE saying: ‘The statement is completely compatible with the Roscommon model. If the issue is allowed to slide,’ he warned, ‘I have no doubt that it will diminish the hospital’s standing, result in fewer consultants seeking work there, and lead to further reduction in services.’
Fianna Fáil TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony addressed people’s concerns directly. She said the HSE statement spoke about the hospital being open ‘seven days a week’.
She said it did not give an assurance that the 24/7 service would remain.’
The deputy added: ‘West Cork needs a full-service acute hospital’ and that Fianna Fáil would safeguard that.
Local GPs have met to discuss the seriousness of the issue. And a letter, sent to this paper, signed by Dr Joseph Ryan of Ballinascarthy, Dr Eoin O’Shea of Rosscarbery and Dr Brian Aherne in Kilbrittain, on behalf of West Cork GP trainees said: ‘We fear the knock-on effects of such a short-sighted decision will be felt for generations.’
Dunmanway man, Dave Dineen, a member of the newly-formed Bantry Hospital Users Action Group, said they have organised a public meeting, which will take place at The Maritime Hotel in Bantry at 7.30pm on Monday, January 27th next.
Dave Dinee,n declared he has a vested interest in supporting Bantry Hospital. He said a consultant at the hospital ‘saved’ him and he warned: ‘We are in danger of losing the amazing, compassionate approach that has saved the lives.’
Another support group, entitled ‘Save Bantry Hospital’, will be holding a meeting at Ma Murphy’s pub in Bantry at 6.30pm on Thursday, January 23rd.

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