The reopening of a Medical Assessment Unit at Bantry General Hospital in West Cork, which has allowed admissions to the hospital to recommence, has been warmly welcomed by a local GP who had been forced to send patients more than 80km away to Cork city hospitals.
Paul O'Sullivan of the Marino Medical Centre in Bantry had spoken last week about how some of his patients were opting to stay at home rather than make the long journey to Cork city after the Medical Assessment Unit at Bantry General Hospital closed towards the end of July.
Speaking to The Irish Examiner at the end of July, Dr O’Sullivan had warned: “What is going on is totally unacceptable – we are heading into the busiest bank holiday of the weekend and GPs, like myself, have no idea where to send our patients.”
“For the first time in my career, I am afraid serious harm will come to patients as we are left out on a limb due to Bantry General Hospital closing to admissions.”
Dr O’Sullivan was one of around 1,000 people who participated in a protest in the town last Sunday against the closure.
The failure to fill vacancies in Bantry General Hospital was also raised in the Dáil by local Cork South West Independent TD, Michael Collins who described the issue as "one of the greatest let-downs by the government to the people of West Cork".
“The failure to fill medical posts in Bantry General Hospital since 2018 is extremely worrying and directly led to the cancellation of patients being admitted to Bantry General Hospital since Tuesday, July 27th. This is a totally unacceptable and worrying situation for the people of West Cork.”
According to the HSE South/South West Hospital Group which has responsibility for Bantry General Hospital, the closure of the Medical Assessment Unit, which resulted in the hospital being unable to take new admissions, stemmed from a number of staff shortages.
“The current shortage of medical staff arose due to unexpected issues in relation to the recruitment process for the appointment of the permanent consultant position in BGH and also the unexpected sick leave of staff resulting in staffing issues,” said the South/South West Hospital Group.
However the South/South West Hospital Group pledged that the Medical Assessment Unit would re-open on August 10th from 8am to 8pm, opening up the hospital for new patients to be admitted while it also pledged that two new consultant physicians would be starting on August 23rd.
The hospital group also confirmed that a consultant geriatrician from CUH would be based at BGH from August 6th for the coming weeks while the consultant currently on sick leave would be returning to work to BGH by the second week of September.
Dr O’Sullivan said while it was still early days in the process, the reopening of the Medical Assessment Unit at Bantry on Wednesday was a major step forward towards resolving the issue as it meant GPs in West Cork and South Kerry could now start referring patients to the hospital again.
He said Bantry General Hospital was perhaps unlike other hospitals in that while it dealt with high number of admissions in winter due to people with respiratory complaints being referred by their GPs, numbers remained high during the summer months due to the influx of tourists into West Cork.
“Today’s re-opening has gone well and is very welcome - I’m happy that I no longer have to worry where I send my patients, I know Bantry is open so at least I can send patients there - if they need to be seen in Cork they can still go there but least we can send people to hospital locally again.”