Criticism over failure to decide on future of Portlaoise hospital

Senior HSE manager says uncertainty makes it very difficult to recruit doctors and nurses

 Portlaoise hospital. Last December a follow-up report by Hiqa found there were continuing safety concerns at the hospital

Portlaoise hospital. Last December a follow-up report by Hiqa found there were continuing safety concerns at the hospital

 

The Government’s continuing failure to decide on the future of Portlaoise hospital has been criticised by a senior HSE manager.

The failure to publish a clear plan for the hospital is causing concern and frustration for staff and the public, as well as making it extremely difficult to recruit doctors and nurses, according to Dr Susan O’Reilly, chief executive of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, which includes Portlaoise hospital.

The “inherent risk” of relying on locum and other temporary staff is “unsustainable”, Dr O’Reilly warns in a letter to the Department of Health, obtained under the Freedom of Information Acts.

Last year the hospital spent more than €10 million on locum staff, mostly doctors, due to an inability to fill permanent posts.

A draft plan drawn up by the hospital group has been with the department for over a year, with a final draft submitted last December. The unpublished plan is believed to propose major changes to the hospital, including the politically controversial option of ending 24/7 emergency and critical care services.

The department’s failure to announce what it intends to do with the plan is the source of growing concern within the hospital group.

The a plan was called for by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) in May 2015, in a highly critical report into the hospital prompted by a series of baby deaths.

Intensive care unit

Last December a follow-up report by Hiqa found there were continuing safety concerns at the hospital. The safety watchdog found some improvements in maternity standards, but said the intensive care unit did not meet minimum standards.

In her letter to the department Dr O’Reilly says staff, the public and GPs in Portlaoise urgently need to have a sense of the long-term strategic plan for the hospital.

“It is continuously highlighted to me by staff and management that their ability to recruit new staff or replace existing experienced clinical staff who are retiring may well be compromised by the lack of a strategic plan. They cannot answer the very simple question ‘what are the plans for the hospital and the region’?”

She says Portlaoise is struggling to retain nurses and has always struggled to fill physician posts. “There is a risk if no decisions are taken as staff are looking for information and some certainty about the future.”

Patient safety

The department says the plan is being reviewed “in detail”, and patient safety and good quality outcomes will come first in any changes made.

“Any changes will be undertaken in a planned and orderly manner to further improve services for patients, and will take account of existing patient flows and demands in other hospitals, as well as the need to develop particular services at Portlaoise in the context of the overall service configuration in the group.”