Simon Harris denies plan to axe emergency departments at nine hospitals

Minister for Health Simon Harris has denied that emergency departments in rural areas may be shut down in the near future after a leaked document revealed plans to axe trauma care from nine hospitals.

The Fine Gael Cabinet member insisted “there are no plans to close emergency departments”, despite confirming an overhaul of the hospital system will see people sent “to the right hospital” for urgent emergency treatment.

Details revealed in the Sunday Business Post at the weekend show a draft copy of the Government’s draft report of its trauma steering group proposed cuts to services at nine facilities nationwide.

The hospitals — Cavan General, Naas, Portiuncula in Ballinasloe, Kilkenny, Wexford, South Tipperary, Clonmel, and the Mercy University Hospital in Cork City — are now at risk of losing trauma care services in order to amalgamate care at larger nearby facilities.

The potential move, which will not be definitively confirmed until the end of the year, has caused significant political concerns as local TDs come under renewed pressure to ensure hospitals in their area are not affected.

However, while confirming changes towards a more amalgamated set of services across the country are being considered, Mr Harris insisted that no emergency department will be closed.

“Let me be clear on this, what I read in the paper is not what I have seen,” he said. “There are no plans to close emergency departments in this [the document] and any suggestion is misleading.”

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation yesterday expressed “serious concern” at plans services may be “scaled back”.

“Nurses are fed up with piecemeal change which actually makes the situation worse rather than better,” said the group’s general secretary, David Hughes.

“This is not the first time that the re-directing of emergency departments to separate major trauma centres has been proposed.

“So-called centres of excellence have been reduced to chaos when the major hospitals with few additional resources are expected to take the serious trauma on an already over-crowded and over-worked department.”

Meanwhile, Mr Harris confirmed he wants to bring back the National Treatment Purchase Fund as soon as possible.

Despite criticism of the privatised service, Mr Harris said: “We don’t need a big ideological debate about what is best to clear waiting lists”, adding that such a discussion does not help “patients waiting today”.


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