Thursday, 24 May 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Belton: I welcome the opportunity to raise this urgent matter. With all due respect to the Minister of State, I am disappointed the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, is not here to hear first hand from me, an elected representative from the area, of the staffing crisis at the casualty unit at Longford Hospital. The Minister was in Longford some months ago and has first hand knowledge of how things are there but I want to give a brief picture of the background.
Most people from outside Longford would find  it very difficult to understand why a county town, in fact the whole of a county, is without a hospital facility. When the old hospital in Longford was closed, the health care of Longford citizens was transferred to the new hospital and extensions at Mullingar, to what is now known as the Longford Westmeath General Hospital. Extension 2b, the building itself, was finished four years ago and lies idle. Recently on the Order of Business, the Taoiseach was explaining the matter of Stadium Ireland, and I asked about the health services. The Taoiseach rounded on me and referred to the £X billion spent on health and in response I recommended he come to Longford and tell people about the waiting lists, the unfinished hospital in Mullingar and now the crisis of the casualty unit in Longford hospital. Will the Minister of State come to Longford immediately, staff the casualty unit and give people the proper service they deserve as citizens of this State?
A week ago the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste said there was not a crisis in the health service. I know they have been in Government for four years and that some in power for a while become drunk with it, but the crisis in the health service is fact and 28,000 people are on the waiting lists. The casualty staff in Longford are doing their best but this cannot continue and I appeal to the Minister and the Department of Health and Children. It is no use telling me that it is up to the Midland Health Board as in the final analysis the Minister and his Department are responsible for the welfare of citizens. The people of County Longford deserve more and I will continue this fight on the floor of the House, even if it means my removal by the Ceann Comhairle as threatened in the past. This Government and the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, should climb down off their high horse, forget about Stadium Ireland and look after the people by giving them the health service they deserve.
St. Joseph's Hospital Longford is primarily an in-patient care centre for the elderly with 184 beds. Associated with the hospital is a general practitioner run casualty unit which was extended and upgraded by the Midland Health Board at a cost of £200,0000 last year. Recently the service provided by the unit has had to be curtailed as general practitioners providing cover have withdrawn their services. Prior to this development, the service was staffed by two full-time Midland Health Board general practitioners and seven part-time GPs and it is those seven who have withdrawn their services. As a result the service no longer operates between 9.00 p.m. and 9.00 a.m. from Monday to Thursday as it could not be sustained by the two full-time GPs. The service is otherwise unaffected.
I have been informed by the Midland Health Board that patient care is not compromised as a  result and that, in any event, the more serious cases presenting at St. Joseph's had been referred to Mullingar General Hospital prior to the recent curtailment in the service. While this is an unfortunate development, I understand the GPs in question were concerned the service was being used inappropriately, but I also understand that members of the Midland Health Board management are meeting next Monday night in a bid to resolve the issue. The Department of Health and Children and the health boards are working to develop sustainable out-of-hours general practitioner services in the context of upgrading our primary care services. I am confident this development will continue.
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