What does the future hold for the Midlands Regional Hospital? 

Gavin Mc Stay looks into the possible closure of the A&E Department of Portlaoise and what’s being done to combat it.

The Midlands Regional Hospital located in Portlaoise, Co Laois, cares for the population of Laois and the Irish Midlands. In the last seven years, there have been calls for the hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department to be closed. 

Dr Susan O’Reilly, a manager at the HSE, has drawn up a plan to downgrade the services of Portlaoise Hospital’s Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department. This downgrade would see the A&E Department close at a certain hour. 

The motion is that the A&E Department would be closed at 8 p.m. This will cause problems as if something life-threatening happens overnight, the patient would be forced to travel to either Tullamore or Nass. These two towns are at least half an hour away in a car. In that half an hour, their condition might worsen and then who’s to blame, the people who closed the A&E early that’s who. 

Portlaoise, the surrounding towns and villages contain many different sports clubs, most notably GAA and soccer. Most matches mid-week are played in the evening time around seven or eight o’clock. If a player was to get badly injured, they’d have to be brought in either a car or ambulance to Tullamore or Nass since Portlaoise’s A&E Department would be closed at this time. 

Local Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley has talked of his displeasure on the proposed plan. “This plan needs to be stopped in its tracks and it’s up to the government to act immediately. I raised this again with the Minister for Health Simon Harris last week and he replied that it’s “being reviewed in detail” by his department. This is simply play acting,” he said. Also, local TD and Minister for Foreign Affairs has opposed a downgrade and will oppose this future downgrade too. 

Staff at Portlaoise Hospital believe that if the A&E Department is removed there is little future for some other acute services such as maternity and paediatrics. The staff fears that people won’t use the hospital in Portlaoise as much if there isn’t 24/7 emergency care available for the population of Portlaoise and surrounding towns. 

Fianna Fáil’s Sean Fleming has also shown his displeasure to the potential downgrading of services. “The A&E Department is far too busy to close”. With the local TDs opposing the motion, it gives the people of Laois hope that the plans won’t go ahead. 

Parents of children that have serious medical conditions believe that without Portlaoise’s 24/7 A&E Department that their children probably wouldn’t be here today. It’s sad to hear that there are actually plans to downgrade services when so many people depend on the constant service that is running at the moment. 

Portlaoise’s population is rising at a high rate and the population is currently at 23,000. The majority of these people feel safe at the moment knowing that if anything major was to happen to them overnight, they would have the hospital at their doorstep. 

Anthony Knowles, a Laois native, has a two-year-old daughter who suffers from Dravet’s Syndrome, which is a rare form of epilepsy. Due to her rare condition, she is prone to seizures and these seizures can be prolonged. There is also an increased risk of sudden unexplained death in epilepsy. His daughter, therefore, needs the 24/7 A&E Department service to remain in Portlaoise as if they were to travel to Tullamore or Nass, his daughter might have sustained brain injuries or may die due to Dravet’s Syndrome. In her short life, she has had over 60 seizures due to her life-threatening illness. 

The people of Laois have stood up to the possible downgrade and there have been many protests opposing these plans. Campaign groups, one of them being, “Save Portlaoise Hospital AGAIN”, have been created in order to allow people to campaign against the plans. Last December, over 5,000 people took the Main Street of Portlaoise protesting against the potential downgrade of the hospital’s services. Local TDs and councillors attended the march to show their displeasure with the proposed plans. 

The possible plans would affect the elderly portion of Laois a good bit. If a 70-year man/woman required urgent medical attention during the night, it wouldn’t be possible to go to the A&E Department as it would be closed. Their only options would be to either get someone to drive them to Tullamore or Nass. Or, to phone an ambulance, which could take 20 minutes to come. Due to their age, they shouldn’t have to wait this long, they should have the opportunity to go to their local hospital, Portlaoise. 

These plans will also have implications for the hospitals in Tullamore and Nass. Overcrowding is a major problem in Irish hospitals. If all the patients that would normally use the services in Portlaoise, were forced to go to Tullamore or Nass, it would increase the overcrowding problems. Tullamore and Nass have their own overcrowding problems without an added influx of people from Portlaoise. 

Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has still not given any clarity on the situation. The Laois group of family doctors still feel as if it’s a major concern. “We have no doubt that the numbers of people using the ED (A&E) and other hospital services continues to grow. It is extremely disappointing, however, that the Minister for Health has not provided any clarity around the future of services at the hospital”, the group said. 

So, the big question is what does the future hold for the A&E Department of the Midlands Regional Hospital in Portlaoise. It’s expected that Minister Harris will appoint an independent, external facilitator for this in the coming weeks. There should be an update on the situation in the near future.

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