Consultant Dr Paud O’Regan said it was “extremely likely” that Clonmel would lose out if Health Minister James Reilly decides to close one of the southeast’s maternity units.
“That’s effectively, then, the end of acute services in the hospital.” he stated.
Dr O’Regan said the public need to be “ready” to act when any announcement is made on the future of hospital services in the region. Local Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes has sent out a warning to his party leaders that he will not be “walked over” by anyone when it comes to preserving existing acute hospital facilities in South Tipperary.
Mr Hayes was speaking this week as the cabinet was expected to take delivery of the long-awaited Higgins Report on hospital networks, which is believed to recommend the break-up of current southeast acute hospital links and see South Tipperary General Hospital partnered with Cork University Hospital.
Campaigners fear this will lead to the loss of maternity services in Clonmel and a consequent loss of other facilities such as paediatrics, surgery and more. A meeting was held on Monday night of the Save Our Hospital Services committee, chaired by independent TD, to update members on the issue.
As a TD from a Government party, Tom Hayes is expected to come under pressure if the government does decide to go ahead with dismantling the southeast hospital network.
However, he said this week he will “leave no stone unturned” in relation to health services in south Tipperary.
“From the taoiseach down I’ve been making them aware of my concerns,” he told The Nationalist. “I’m not going to be driven on or walked over by anyone as far as the health services are concerned. I’ll be communicating that to the taoiseach and he’s well aware of my position. The health services are of the utmost importance to the people of South Tipperary.”
Asked if he would be prepared to vote against the government on the issue and lose the Fine Gael parliamentary whip, Mr Hayes did not answer directly but said: “I will not shirk my responsibilities to the people who elected me.”
He also predicted, however, that the section of the Higgins Report dealing with the southeast will be “kicked to touch” as medical professionals in the region have not been able to agree on a position.
“At the end of the day people say the medics don’t make the decisions but the last big decision in south Tipperary was between Cashel and Clonmel [hospitals] and the medics made the decision and the politicians followed suit.”
He pointed out that this county was given “commitments” about future services by a previous government when it came to amalgamating the former St Joseph’s in Clonmel and Our Lady’s in Cashel, “and that’s the bottom line”.
Health minister Dr James Reilly is expected to meet local TDs from the area in about a fortnight’s time to discuss the issues raised in the Higgins Report and, according to independent TD Seamus Healy, there remains “a lot of worry” about the future of South Tipperary General Hospital.
If, as has been reported, one of the maternity units in the southeast is to close then the most likely is the smallest and that is in Clonmel, Mr Healy said. “If it were to happen it would have serious consequences for the services because it would knock-on to the paediatric unit because there would be no need for a paediatric unit and no need for 24-hour anaesthetic cover. We’d end up with just a minor injury service and we’d only have day surgery. It would mean just having a level two hospital, very similar to what has happened in Nenagh.”
Mr Healy said it was “absolutely crucial” that there is no removal or downgrading of maternity services in Clonmel.