Maternity and acute services at South Tipperary General Hospital face an almighty battle for survival as the campaign to save the hospital is to be re-activated after the emergence of a major threat to the hospital.
The public has been placed on red alert as the hospital faces its biggest ever threat to its status. Fears are mounting that Clonmel’s maternity services will be selected as the one to close out of the four maternity services in the south east which will have a huge knock on effect for paediatric services, twenty four hour anaesthetic services, emergency department and in-patient general surgical services.
The new threat to the maternity services has arisen after Health Minister James Reilly briefed backbench TDs on the Higgins report on restructuring of hospital groups in the country and informed them that one of the four maternity units in the south east would close. There is a proposal that both Clonmel and Waterford will be downgraded and linked to Cork while the hospitals in the constituencies of Minister Phil Hogan in Kilkenny and Brendan Howlin in Wexford are to be grouped with the prestigious teaching hospitals in Dublin.
The Save Our Acute Hospital Services action group office in Clonmel is to re-open this week and arrangements are being made for the members of the hospital action group to meet Minister Reilly.
Said action group Chairman Seamus Healy TD - “Closure of our hospital will simply not be allowed happen. The campaign which culminated in 20,0000 people taking to the streets in Clonmel three years ago will be re-activated. The public will have to stand up to this threat, people power can stop this. South Tipperary has a commitment from the current Health Minister, the Taoiseach and Tanaiste and their two parties that acute services in South Tipperary will be retained. The people of South Tipperary will not stand for the loss of the maternity services or the downgrading of the hospital,”
Independent TD Mattie McGrath has slammed the move as ‘naked political interference” from Ministers Hogan and Howlin.
”This is a political decision. We are losing out because Minister Hogan is looking after Kilkenny and Minister Howlin looking after Wexford. This decision has nothing to do with the delivery of a better health service, it’s a political game and we don’t have a government TD to stand up to them and protect South Tipperary,” said Deputy McGrath.
The cabinet met on Tuesday to discuss the Higgins report but according to Fine Gael Deputy Tom Hayes no decision would be taken on the restructuring of the hospital groups because there was no medical consensus. He said he would oppose any attempt by Minister Reilly to close the maternity services in Clonmel.
On Monday might a meeting of the hospital action committee was held in Clonmel which was attended by hospital consultant Peter Murchan and former consultants Paud O’Regan and Alan Moore. It was also attended by Mayor of Clonmel Billy Shoer, elected representatives from throughout South Tipperary, hospital patient groups and hospital staff and retired staff.
Chairman Seamus Healy said the committee would meet ‘head on‘ any attempt to close maternity services in Clonmel and would fight against the break up of the existing south east hospital structure which South Tipperary wanted to remain part of .
He said that Deputy Hayes had undertaken to arrange a meeting with Minister Reilly with the three South Tipp TDs as well as a meeting with the hospital action group.
“Losing your maternity services would amount to the nuclear situation because it would have such a devastating effect on other vital services. If maternity goes then you face asset stripping of a major scale and Clonmel could very soon become a day hospital with a minor injury unit,” warned Deputy Healy.
Deputy Tom Hayes said he was very concerned about the maternity services which he said could be one out of the four to go if the south east hospital structure stays as it is.
“If the south east structure as it is stays together one of the four maternity units will not survive. I have no intention of allowing Minister Reilly close down maternity in Clonmel and it will have to be fought,” he said.
Deputy Mattie McGrath said that capital funding for both hospitals in Kilkenny and Wexford had been accelerated by Minister Reilly for Minsiters Hogan and Howlin. That combined with Minister Reillys’ involvement in the prioritisation of primary health care centres established a pattern of political interference in the health system and it now appeared as if the hospital system was going to be restructured to accommodate the political interests of some ministers.
“Our maternity is under threat because we are the weakest link. We do not have anybody in government strong enough to protect our interests,” said Deputy McGrath.
He said he was concerned that the delivery of a better health service was not the priority anymore as significant changes were being made because the political picture had changed so much.
“Not that long ago Waterford was to be a centre of excellence with South Tipperary, Kilkenny and Wexford feeding into that. Now it looks like Waterford is going to be downgraded along with South Tipperary, and Kilkenny and Wexford are upgraded. It’s purely political. This is the biggest threat our maternity services and the hospital has ever faced,” he said.