A Government plan to rejig the health service will “tear apart” the medical and teaching links that hospital groups have worked hard to build over the past six years, a hospital consultant has warned.
Paud O’Regan, a consultant physician at South Tipperary General Hospital, said “nobody in management” that he had spoken to had “any idea” that the plan would alter the existing structure so dramatically.
“We had no reason to expect that what was working well would be torn apart,” said Prof O’Regan.
He said the six years the hospital had spent building relationships with Cork University Hospital (CUH), and University College Cork as group academic partner, had created “the most successful set-up in the 35 years since I was here”.
They had developed excellent teaching links with “more than 300 UCC medical students going through South Tipperary General Hospital each year”, as well as excellent collaboration across super-specialities such as cardiac and neurosurgery.
Prof O’Regan said the proposed realignment would move his hospital and University Hospital Waterford to a region where the nearest tertiary maternity hospital — Holles St — “is two-and-a-half hours away on a good day”.
Prof O’Regan, writing in today’s Irish Examiner, said:
Anyone looking at the map [of the proposed regions] will see the absurdity of suggesting that Ballyporeen or Ardmore, or indeed Clonmel, is in any way local to Dublin 4 at the northern end of the ‘area’.
His concerns were echoed by Richard Greene, consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH).
Prof Greene said it was “a source of frustration” given all the effort that had gone into creating “a cohesive functioning system” within the South/South West maternity directorate and across the wider hospital group, that this change was now being proposed.
“It was really just beginning to get going,” he said.
While he accepted that the move to six new health regions was Government policy, there had been “very active effort to develop a coherent system” with CUMH as a tertiary referral centre and maternity units in Kerry, Waterford and Clonmel feeding in.
One element of this was the introduction of a mandatory “no refusals policy”, whereby CUMH would always accept complex cases from smaller units, while smaller units would take patients back when their needs were addressed.
“It seems like a very simple thing, but we had to get buy-in from the staff and we had to find a way to accommodate patients. It was very patient-centred,” said Prof Greene.
Moreover, they had developed “good working relationships” with Clonmel and Waterford, and now these “two major components” of the South/South West group were moving into another grouping.
A Q&A on the Department of Health website says: “There is no intention for any geographical realignment to adversely impact existing clinical service collaborations”.