By Tim Ryan, Oireachtas Correspondent
Dublin has a population of 1.2 million people and has ten hospitals, yet the South-East region has a population of 500,000 and only four hospitals, Independent Deputy Mattie McGrath told the Dáil.
“We bought into the idea that Waterford Regional Hospital would be one of the eight centres of excellence,” he said. “We did not like the fact that South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel lost services but we allowed them to go on the grounds there would be specialties in Waterford such as cancer care. We all made a deal and we are happy with it. We support each other.”
However, there cannot now be a different situation because of the Higgins report or the ideas of “some geniuses in Kilkenny” that they want to link up with St James’s Hospital in Dublin.
“We want to protect our regional status,” he said. “We have a population of 500,000 people, and the Minister can give all the reasons he likes but we are told this is the magical number required for a regional hospital. We also have the ambulance service required to transport people. Consultants, patients, doctors and nurses have all bought into the idea. It would also be a major blow to the economy of the South-East region which we cannot afford. The South-East region has lost much and we cannot afford to lose this. It is a matter of life and death. We must keep the hospital as it is.”
The agreements made with Waterford Regional Hospital on the transfer of services should be kept, he said. Consultants or others should not smash and grab services from South Tipperary General Hospital.
“I appeal to the Minister to leave the system alone. He has enough problems to deal with. We have a perfect working system in Waterford and we go there for specialist treatment. We need to be left alone. It is not broken so he should not fix it.”
In reply, Health Minister James Reilly said a key stepping stone towards the introduction of universal health insurance will be to develop independent not-for-profit hospital trusts in which all hospitals will function as part of integrated groups. The rationale behind the establishment of hospital groups and trusts is to support increased operational autonomy and accountability for hospital services in a way that will drive service reforms and provide the maximum possible benefit to patients.
“To assist the Department in advising the Government on the formation of hospital groups, in June this year I appointed Professor John Higgins to chair a strategic board on the establishment of hospital groups,” he said. “The strategic board is composed of representatives with national and international expertise in health service delivery, governance and linkages with academic institutions.”
A project team was established to make recommendations on the composition of hospital groups, governance arrangements, current management frameworks and linkages to academic institutions for the consideration of the strategic board, he said. The consultation process to inform the project team had been rigorous and comprehensive. It had included meetings with every acute hospital, including consultations on two separate occasions with each hospital in the South-East region. It had involved the receipt of a significant volume of formal submissions from hospitals, clinicians, regulatory bodies and citizens, all of which have been considered.
“This is a grouping exercise,” he said. “It is not a question of the trusts. If they do not work out, we will have the opportunity to carry out a review before we finalise any trust legislation. It is not fair to say that these provisions will be set in stone. However, it would be very wrong of me to pre-empt the outcome of the report. I have not seen it. I acknowledge there are concerns and that some hospitals within the south east have different views. We must bring people together or let them part, depending on evolving circumstances.”
Hayes supports updating credit union legislation
The key role played by credit unions in the financial sector in Ireland was highlighted in the Dáil by South Tipperary Fine Gael Deputy Tom Hayes.
Speaking on a new Credit Union Bill, which updates current legislation, he said it was clear, however, that systemic failings in the regulation of the financial sector in recent times had led to the requirement for the State to bail out our banks at enormous cost to the taxpayer.
“Although I certainly do not wish to tar credit unions with the same brush, I accept that the outdated legislation from 1942 needs to be updated,” he said. “The credit union sector has performed well in comparison to the banks, but some 30 credit unions have received emergency funds from a rescue scheme set up by the league that represents the sector. It has been reported recently that worried regulators have 100 credit unions under close supervision because of fears about rising loan arrears.”
These comprised one quarter of the credit unions in the State, he said. Thousands of loans at the affected credit unions were not being repaid and this was putting huge financial pressure on their balance sheets. The State had set aside millions of euro to allow it to deal with weaker credit unions.
“I hope the merger of weaker credit unions and their stronger counterparts will allow the credit union movement to emerge from this process in a healthy financial position,” he said.
The Credit Union Bill 2012 largely reflected the recommendations set out in the final report of the Commission on Credit Unions which was published in March, he said. The Commission included representatives of all stakeholder groups in the credit union sector. The Irish League of Credit Unions was centrally involved in the Bill’s development, drafting and finalisation.
The Bill has now gone to Committee Stage.