A group campaigning to have a Waterford hospital ward reopened has been advised that admissions may recommence on a phased basis by September.
The Sacred Heart unit at Dungarvan Community Hospital was closed amid local outrage on May 4 with the loss of 19 beds.
The closure followed an earlier loss of seven beds in the ward and affected respite, rehab and long-stay services. Patients were relocated to other wards.
The HSE said the closure was due to health and safety concerns caused by staff shortages and pledged to re-open the unit once staff numbers had been restored.
Locals fear the ward may not reopen, as the 24-bed St Enda’s unit had remained after refurbishment in 2015.
The hospital’s St Michaels unit also lost six beds following restructuring in 2012.
A Dungarvan Community Hospital Action Group was formed and a nine-strong committee has now met formally in the hospital with senior hospital and HSE officials in the hospital.
The action group deputation included Nan O’Brien and Eamonn Healy and they met general manager for Waterford/ Wexford Community Services TJ Dunford, hospital manager for Older Persons’ Service Barbara Murphy, among others.
The group presented the officials with a petition of 7,018 names calling for the unit to be reopened. Mr Healy said the 90-minute meeting was constructive, with the officials reiterating a commitment to reopen the unit pending an increase in staff.
The meeting heard eight new nurses were required to reopen the unit in a limited capacity and a recruitment drive has been partially successful.
It was hoped to meet this requirement within 12 weeks. The group was also told a deficit of 18 staff needed to be filled for the hospital to function at full capacity. A further meeting is scheduled for August.
Meanwhile, chief officer for Community Healthcare Organisation South, Aileen Coffey informed a Regional Health Forum meeting that “every effort has been made to increase existing nursing hours” at the hospital including offers of extra hours, overtime and maximised usage of agency recruitment.
Ms Colley was responding to an inquiry from Waterford’s Cllr Ray Murphy and said the challenge lay in “meeting a continued shortage of suitably qualified nursing personnel that wish to work within elderly services” as against any funding constraint.
The officer said three candidates were interviewed and that the equivalent of 1.5 ‘whole-time equivalent’ retirees had agreed to consider returning to work.
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