The HSE move to stop treating stroke patients at Our Lady's Hospital in Navan, Co Meath from today has been described as "very concerning".
The move came into effect at 8am this morning, according to a directive sent to ambulance and call centre staff. An emergency meeting of the Save Navan Hospital Campaign is due to be called to "mobilise people" on the issue.
"Patients with signs and symptoms of stroke (including transient ischaemic attacks) should not be brought to Our Lady's Hospital, Navan," the directive says. "Instead these patients should be transported to the next nearest hospital emergency department that provides stroke thrombolysis."
The nearest hospitals to Navan are Dublin's Connolly and Mater Hospitals, the Regional Hospital in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda, Co Louth and Cavan General Hospital.
It adds that all "self-presenting patients to Navan with subsequent confirmed stroke" will be brought by ambulance to the Mater Hospital.
The rationale behind the decision was stated as "stroke patient outcomes are optimised by treatment in centres with higher volumes of stroke treatment".
The move was met with concern by TD and chairperson of the Save Navan Hospital Campaign Peadar Tóibín.
This is a significant downgrading of the hospital and comes on the back of significant disinvestment of services.
"I'd be very concerned for patients of stroke in Meath who need to get to hospital as fast as they can. Time is of the essence in these cases and often delays in the response times of ambulances can be lengthy as it is, without more time being added to get to a hospital further away," he said.
"It's another foundation taken away from the Emergency Department. Government policy wants to close it and there have been many threats in the past.
"It also leads to another question - more pressure on the ambulance services. If an ambulance has to travel to Dublin and wait with a patient, it is out of action for hours which means it will lead to even lengthier ambulance response times.
As chair of the Save Navan Hospital Campaign, I'll be forced to call an emergency meeting to mobilise people on this issue.
The cut to the service was met 'disappointment' by stroke victim and well-known radio DJ Gerry Stevens who is currently broadcasting a series of podcasts with stroke victims and medics in an effort to raise awareness of the condition.
"I was three minutes without oxygen. Two more minutes would've left me needing treatment in a care home due to the level of damage to the brain," he said.
Gerry, 52, from Duleek, Co. Meath suffered a stroke in November 2017 and spent three months in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda - the closest hospital to his home.
Minutes are critical and to close services like these is not good. It's not the direction you want to go in at a time when 2,000 of the 10,000 who suffer stroke each year in Ireland, die.
"One in five will suffer a stroke at some stage in their lives and they are now a common occurrence in the under 40s."
"The quality of life and how much of you that comes out the other side depends on time and we need more investment, not less in local services."
The HSE issued the following statement.
"The Ireland East Hospital Group aim to consistently deliver safe services to its population, based on the advice of the National Clinical Programme for Stroke (NCPS), the Ireland East Hospital Group (IEHG) can confirm that patient's suffering with acute stroke will bypass Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, from today (17/2).
"As per the National Ambulance operating procedure any patient fitting the stroke criteria will be transported to the closest appropriate stroke facility nearest the patient’s location.
"This new model of service delivery will improve patient safety and outcomes. "