By Gráinne Ní Aodha, Pennsylvania
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said it is not true to claim that ‘taking a knife’ from the emergency wards at Notre Dame Hospital in Navan will improve health services.
Addressing a public meeting in Navan on Monday evening, Ms McDonald said there was an opportunity to change the government’s decision on the ‘thousand cut downgrade’ of Navan Hospital.
Controversy surrounded the future of Co Meath Hospital after the HSE announced that the intensive care unit and emergency department at Navan Hospital would be closed in favor of a medical assessment unit 24/7 and a local injury unit.
The HSE said Navan Hospital would still see around 80 per cent of the 25-30 patients it currently sees daily in these units, but more specialist care will be diverted to hospitals such as Our Lady of Lourdes, Drogheda in Co Louth.
Politicians have raised concerns about the proposal, including Justice and Meath East TD Minister Helen McEntee – who said the HSE had failed to address ‘the serious questions about capacity’.
Addressing the Navan town hall meeting, Ms McDonald said: ‘Cutting access to healthcare robs you of the confidence you are entitled to: to live a full and safe life. And we know that access to health care, sometimes in a timely manner, can mean the difference between life and death. That’s a fact.
“I have no doubt that those here at this meeting tonight could cite countless examples of when this facility at Navan Hospital was essential to you and your loved ones.”
The Sinn Féin leader has criticized confusion between different branches of the state over what should happen at Navan Hospital, after the HSE last week announced a planned phased change to the hospital.
Cuts to emergency services
The following day, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly issued a statement saying the government had not agreed a position on the HSE’s proposal.
“The HSE is saying one thing, the Minister is saying another,” Ms McDonald said. “With no one, it seems to me, taking responsibility and that is unacceptable when it comes to a decision that will have very real impacts on the lives of people in Navan and indeed the surrounding area.
“The downgrading by a thousand cuts of emergency services at Navan Hospital is madness. Particularly at a time when emergency services across the state are under such strain.
“What we need now, to put it very bluntly, is a bit of cop. A little cop for Minister Donnelly in particular. I think it’s important that he hears the voices in this room.
Clinicians at Navan Hospital, including the hospital’s clinical director Gerry McEntee, said there are serious risks to patient care due to the hospital’s poor equipment for treating sick patients.
“I don’t know if the public really realizes this, but this cohort of critically ill patients who, by virtue of arriving at Notre Dame Hospital in Navan, don’t have the best chance of survival,” a- he declared.
Speaking to an Oireachtas committee last week, HSE chief Paul Reid said the proposals for Navan Hospital would strengthen the health service as a whole.
Thousands of people demonstrated on Saturday against the potential downgrading of Navan Hospital. Photo: Seamus Farrelly
He said that under the proposal there would be more “advanced surgical care and support from the Mater [hospital] in Navan. So it’s more surgery, more theater used by specialists coming from Mater to Navan”.
“It’s a well-reinforced hospital,” he said, adding that Navan Hospital would be “much safer” for the community it serves.
HSE Chief Operating Officer Anne O’Connor added: ‘The reality is in healthcare, unfortunately it is neither sustainable nor safe to try to deliver all services everywhere.
Ms McDonald said at Monday’s meeting: ‘We cannot make the sweeping improvements our health services badly need by bringing a knife to the emergency services at Navan Hospital.
“It’s actually a false argument. The idea that this action plan would somehow improve care, whether in Navan or elsewhere, is simply not true. And the clinicians at Drogheda testify to this. Because they are already telling us that they are struggling to cope.
“What hope if services to Navan were to cease?”
“The example of Limerick should really be taken into account – Ennis closed, Nenagh closed, St John’s closed and when people objected to that, just as you object to the removal of services at Navan Hospital, we told them not to worry.
“That the situation would actually get better – well my friends, it’s not.
“University Hospital Limerick is still ahead of the pack in terms of wait times, number of trolleys etc. It is therefore not acceptable for the HSE or the Minister to make such a decision in such a confused and cavalier manner. Not listening to your voices.
“What Navan needs, what’s needed across the system, is more capacity, not less.
“What Navan and the whole system needs is more accessible care, not less.
Ms McDonald said the message to the government at the meeting was: “It has to stop now. I think he has to appreciate the depth of feeling here in Navan and accept that people here just won’t put up with the course of action he proposes.
Sinn Féin are due to table a private member’s motion in the Dail tomorrow night on the matter, Ms McDonald told the meeting.
A protest is also planned in Navan on July 9.
“I think we can force the government to do the right thing here,” Ms McDonald said.