Protesters block doors as hospital cuts service


HUNDREDS OF protesters occupied the former emergency unit at Roscommon County Hospital last night just minutes before it was due to shut its doors. They staged a sit-in and prevented the doors from closing in a “symbolic gesture” to mark the first night that emergency services were not available at the hospital.

Many of the protesters said they planned to remain in the lobby of the unit through the night. There were tearful scenes as nurses who yesterday morning had completed the last overnight shift at the new “urgent care unit” joined local people and former patients in a candlelit vigil.

Minister for Health James Reilly announced in July that the hospital’s 24-hour emergency unit was to be closed and replaced with an urgent care centre, to operate between 8am and 8pm.

Last night a giant banner of ripped-up sheets which had been made by three staff nurses on their last overnight shift had pride of place on the outside wall of the former emergency department. It read: “Our Hands Can save Lives but this is death at the hands of Fine Gael and Labour”.

Evie Walsh, one of the nurses who was on duty on Sunday night, said it had been eerie being on duty there for the last night. “The nurses in the other wards came down to see us. The local priests came in and gave us a blessing and members of the action committee and local people dropped in. It was a very sad night. We cannot believe it has come to this,” she said.

Her colleagues Tina Flanagan and Nadia Finneran, who helped make the banner, pointed out that the emergency unit had opened in 2005 at a cost of €8 million. “I was on duty that first night and we were very, very busy and very enthusiastic with our new unit and our new equipment,” said Ms Flanagan.

The nurses, who pointed out that ambulances can no longer call to the unit, held a candlelit vigil until 4am on their last night.

John McDermott, chairman of the Roscommon Hospital Action Committee, said they were there to make a symbolic gesture. “We are here to make a point and to let politicians and the HSE know that this is our AE and we are entitled to the same services as everyone else. They cannot just take away a service like this from a community.” More than 100 of the 300 or so protesters occupied the unit for over an hour and many said they were prepared to remain there for the night.