Hospitals policy is lunacy - Kenny

 

The Taoiseach was this morning accused standing over a "policy of lunacy" in relation to plans by Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin to close down a number of wards.

The hospital plans to close several wards and theatres, and have some 8,000 fewer outpatient attendances this year in a bid to stay within budget. It is currently facing a deficit of €9.6 million.

Speaking during leaders' questions in the Dáil this morning, Fine Gael's Enda Kenny accused Brian Cowen of standing over a budgetary situation "where, at the first sign of trouble in any hospital, the answer is always close wards and don't treat patients. This is a policy of lunacy".

"This affects potentially every family in the country . . . where, four months into the year, a ward is now being closed and another to be closed later this year because of a €10 million overrun . . . children will be denied operations in Crumlin and will either have to go on a very waiting lists or go to England to be dealt with under the National Treatment Purchase Fund," Mr Kenny said.

Responding, Mr Cowen said it was important to point out Our Lady's had a spending plan that had to be adhered to in common with all hospitals. He noted the hospital was allocated just under €140 million for this year, a 39 per cent increase since 2004.

The Taoiseach said there was a need to secure greater co-ordination between Tallaght, Crumlin and Temple Street hospitals to avoid duplication and provide services required and avoid extra costs. "I understand a meeting has been held between the chief executive of the HSE and the chairman of the medical board of Crumlin, and a lot of progress was made in that respect.

"The initial response has to be to get better co-ordination of services across all three hospitals. That's the best way of ensuring we maintain services levels, and that is the approach we will be taking," Mr Cowen said.

He added €6 million in budget savings had already been identified by Crumlin and implemented.

Mr Kenny said that while he accepted the need for greater co-ordination, "the system here is all wrong".

"At the first sign of difficulty from a budgetary point of view, the hospital looks at its cost base . . . cut six-and-a-half million and stop treating patients. In other systems it's the other way around. . . . Money should follow the patient, with hospitals paid for what they do. . . so patients are seen as a resource and not an obstacle."

Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital said its HSE allocation for 2009 is €137.9 million, a reduction of 4 per cent from 2008, and that the hospital was seeking to identify €9 million in savings.

The hospital board has drawn up a break-even plan that includes the closure of a ward of 25 beds with effect from May 2009 and closure of some 20 more beds in July and August.

Our Lady’s also plans to cut out patient appointments by 15 per cent, shut one theatre for July to December 2009, close two theatres for July and August this year and grant unpaid leave to staff who have expressed a voluntary interest for those two months. Temporary/agency staff contracts will also cease.

Jan O'Sullivan, Labour spokeswoman on health, said the Crumlin hospital closures highlighted a failure to reform health services.

She said that when questioned in the Dáil, Taoiseach gave "a vague promise" to achieve better co-ordination between Crumlin and two other hospitals, Tallaght and Temple Street, "which both also have a major shortfall in funding".

"Those who can do something about it now, the incumbent Government, does nothing but talk about tomorrow and set up yet another think tank while children suffer and wait today. Nothing illustrates better the need for a general election," she said.

Sinn Féin said members of Government should hang their heads in shame. “This Fianna Fáil/Green Government is betraying children and targeting them for savage cuts,” Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said in a statement.

A protest against the planned cuts in services took place outside Our Lady’s last night. The rally was organised by parents and supported by Patients Together. Last week, groups representing doctors and nurses warned of the serious risks to patient safety because of cutbacks and the moratorium on recruitment.