South Tipperary General Hospital will keep its maternity unit, accident and emergency department and other acute services under a major restructuring of the countryâ€™s hospital groups approved by the Government yesterday (Tuesday).
The decision has been welcomed by the Save Our Acute Hospital Services Action Group and local TDs, as there were grave fears over the past few months that the Clonmel hospitalâ€™s maternity services would close under the reforms, with huge knock-on effects for the hospitalâ€™s paediatric services, 24-hour anaesthetic services, emergency department and in-patient general surgical services.
Government ministers gave the go-ahead for the implementation of the Higgins Report into the restructuring of hospital groups in the country at their Cabinet meeting yesterday.
Under the reforms, South Tipperary General Hospital will retain its core Level 3 status, which means its maternity services, accident and emergency services and the other essential services it currently provides will be retained.
South Tipperary Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes said both South Tipperary General Hospital and Waterford Regional Hospital will combine with Cork University Hospital, which is UCCâ€™s training hospital, to be part of a single hospital group with a unified management structure. It will be one of six hospital groups nationwide.
â€œThis is good news for South Tipperary and for people who have anxiously waited for this announcement over the past few months,â€ said Deputy Hayes. â€œIt will mean the services they rely on will be safeguarded and secure going forward.â€
Deputy Hayes said the restructuring will secure the employment of all staff currently working at the hospital and have multiple benefits for the hospital.
â€œThis will improve the efficiency of the hospital and result in reductions in waiting lists and trolley numbers for patients.
â€œIt will mean one CEO for the entire area, and it will mean that STGH will benefit from being specifically linked to a teaching hospital. Doctors and nurses will benefit and it will result in a better level of care for patients.
â€œThe aim is to better manage services and prepare the system for planned independent trusts and boards, which will lead to the eventual dismantling and abolition of the Health Service Executive.â€
Deputy Hayes also said the future of other South Tipperary hospitals was now secure. â€œOur Ladyâ€™s and St Patrickâ€™s in Cashel, Cluain Arann in Tipperary town, St Brigidâ€™s in Carrick-on-Suir and St Theresaâ€™s in Clogheen will finally have certainty over their futures. These hospitals offer essential services to the people of South Tipperary and it is important that all services will be maintained.â€
Save Our Acute Hospital Services Action Group Chairman Seamus Healy TD said they welcomed the restructuring on the basis there is an assurance that STGH will continue as a Level 3 hospital with all its existing acute services retained. The Action Group viewed the Clonmel hospitalâ€™s grouping with Cork University Hospital as a positive development.
He said the Action Group had met and lobbied senior HSE and Department of Health officials over the past months since concerns emerged that the hospitalâ€™s maternity services were under threat of closure. The Group had even met with the Department of Healthâ€™s Secretary General Dr Ambrose McLoughlin when he visited STGH recently.
Deputy Healy said the Action Group would continue to act as a watchdog to ensure the Governmentâ€™s assurances given in relation to STGH are followed through and that the hospitalâ€™s services are improved.
â€œThe Group will now focus on the staffing and resources available to the hospital in the future. In the last few years, the hospital has lost about 20% of it funding and significant numbers of staff. That situation impinges on the proper and safe provision of hospital services.
â€œIn the past one method the HSE has used to undermine hospital services is to starve the hospital of resources. That is something we will be focusing on into the future,â€ he added.
Independent TD Mattie McGrath, meanwhile, said he gave a cautious welcome for Health Minister Dr. James Reillyâ€™s plans to reorganise the hospital system.
â€œThe proposed realignment of South Tipperary General with Cork University Hospital is to be welcomed and I look forward to what has the potential to be a very productive working relationship between both institutions.
â€œI am delighted to learn, however, that this re-configuration has taken full account of the vital role played by South Tipperary General in delivering an outstandingly high level of maternity and Accident and Emergency services, which will now be maintained.
â€œAlthough there had been serious concern expressed about future services in Waterford Regional Hospital and a possible downgrading, those fears have now been addressed by boosting the number of consultants at the hospital and its academic links with UCC.â€
Deputy McGrath said what needed to be done now was to work to ensure these reforms donâ€™t become a â€œhuge mistake.â€
â€œWe have seen how the implementation of the HSE structures on the old system has caused enormous chaos. This cannot be allowed to happen here. If we keep the focus on the interests of patients then hopefully we will be in a better place in terms of the effective delivery of quality health care,â€ he concluded.