Cabinet to sign off on group hospitals plan


The Cabinet is set to approve as early as this week plans by Minister for Health James Reilly to reorganise the State’s hospitals into six regional groups, despite opposition in some areas.

However, proposals for a re-alignment of hospitals in the southeast are expected to be deferred because of strong opposition in Waterford to any perceived downgrading of the city’s regional hospital.

The shake-up of hospital structures is on the agenda for tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting, but it is not certain that the item will be reached. The setting up of hospital groups is a precursor to the creation of hospital trusts and a pooling of resources and services among members of a particular grouping.

The proposal is contained in a report on hospital groups by John Higgins, professor of Obstetrics at Cork Maternity Hospital, which has been under consideration in Dr Reilly’s department for several months. He has recommended the creation of six hospital groups centred on large teaching hospitals.

Local sensitivities

It is expected that Prof Higgins’s recommendation in relation to Waterford Regional Hospital will be revised in view of local political sensitivities.

His report recommends that Waterford be grouped with hospitals in Cork, but campaigners in the southeast view this as a downgrading of the Waterford hospital. In contrast, smaller hospitals in the southeast in Wexford and Kilkenny are to be grouped with prestigious teaching hospitals in Dublin.

More than 12,000 people marched in Waterford last November over fears that the change could result in a dilution of local services and job losses.

Prof Higgins’s report has not yet been published, but he has consulted widely in the health sector and his broad proposals are known.

The proposed reorganisation of hospitals into groups amounts to the biggest change in the health system since the creation of the HSE. All hospitals in a particular group would operate shared services and posts would be filled centrally. The new structure would extend teaching hospital standards to smaller hospitals which at present find it hard to recruit suitably qualified medical staff.

Options examined

A number of options have been examined to address the issues around Waterford, including deferring a decision on groups in the region for up to a year, but no final decision has been made.

Political sensitivities in Waterford have been heightened since news emerged that the Government fast-tracked upgrades for Wexford and Kilkenny in 2011.

Wexford and Kilkenny are in the constituencies of Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin and Minister for Environment Phil Hogan respectively, whereas Waterford has no Cabinet Minister.

Hospital moves What is planned

The report proposes that the Mater hospital, which has traditional links to the Rotunda, be grouped with St Vincent’s and hospitals in Loughlinstown, Holles Street, Mullingar, Navan, Wexford and Kilkenny.

Teaching leadership to this group would come from UCD.

Cavan, Dundalk and Drogheda would also form part of the Rotunda/Beaumont/ Connolly configuration.

Trinity College would be the lead academic partner for a group comprising St James’s, Tallaght, Naas, The Coombe, Tullamore and Portlaoise.

In the south, Bantry and Waterford Hospitals would be grouped with hospitals in Cork city.

The remaining groups would cover hospitals in and around Limerick and in Galway and the northwest.