The Government is “not comfortable” that now is the right to close Navan Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED), Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
There is strong political and community opposition to the Health Service Executive’s proposal to replace the ED at the hospital with a 24-hour medical assessment and injury unit that could only be accessed with a GP referral. Doctors at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda – which would receive seriously ill patients diverted from Navan under the plan – have also raised concerns.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly last week said he had told the HSE to stall the plans to allow for further engagement with politicians, the community and doctors.
On Thursday the HSE board gave its strong backing to continue with the organisation’s plan to close the ED at Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan.
Speaking on Friday Mr Martin said that patient safety was “paramount” and care must be taken on moving forward with reconfiguration at a time when there was “enormous pressure” on EDs across the country “because Covid hasn’t disappeared”.
He said: “People want to believe it’s gone, it’s not, and I think that is a factor in Navan as well.”
Mr Martin said the hospital in Drogheda was under pressure and consultants there were saying they needed space and time to consider the HSE’s plans as well as more resources.
Asked if the ED at Navan will ultimately be reconfigured after a consultation period, Mr Martin said: “The HSE have a position on it, and the Government have a position on it. Government is not comfortable right now that it’s the time to do this. There needs to be more consultation.”
Navan Hospital’s clinical director Dr Gerry McEntee – who supports the reconfiguration – suggested on RTÉ that Mr Donnelly had overruled the planned closure of the ED there.
On Mr McEntee’s remarks, Mr Martin said: “The entire medical community within the northeast should engage on this” and that the way to resolve the issue would be “more consultation rather than edicts from any particular quarter”.
A Department of Health spokesman said Mr Donnelly was aware of the concerns the HSE had about the ED in Navan and he acknowledged the expert view that the hospital “is not of a scale to provide the full range of services required for a 24/7 ED”.
The spokesman said Mr Donnelly had also heard “the very real concerns of senior clinicians working at other hospitals” that will be impacted by the move. He said these concerns “need to be comprehensively addressed”.
The HSE said it is putting in place the extra resources required to ensure a safe reconfiguration of Navan Hospital. A spokeswoman said the plan was about ensuring that patients who were unstable or seriously ill were directed to the right hospital for their needs.
She said it has long been the case that Navan is bypassed for cases involving trauma, heart attack and strokes.
The HSE is said to understand the concerns of the community and politicians, and it is working to address them with a plan for the services that will remain at Navan as well as extra resources for Drogheda. The spokeswoman said more than 80 additional beds have been added to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, along with three operating theatres and an expanded ED.