Last week's announcement of a new community hospital in Carrick-on-Shannon has been warmly but also cautiously welcomed by locals.
Last Tuesday, January 26 Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch announced a new community hospital would be built in the county town as part of a Public Private Partnership by 2021 at a cost of €15.75m. She also announced €300,000 in funding to bring the existing hospital up to current HIQA standards.
The much-awaited news on funding was welcomed firstly by Liam Scollan of Friends of St Patrick's and Labour Senator Susan O'Keeffe before local General Election candidates and councillors issued statements.
When the Leitrim Observer put the breaking news online it was met by positive but cautious comments. For many it was “great news ... but” while a few called it an “election stunt” one even commented “#buyingvotes.”
The hesitation by the electorate to celebrate the news comes from the most recent delays with the public private partnership scheme and Ballinamore Community Hospital. The building encountered many delays and is still waiting for the nursing unit to be filled.
The unsure feeling has not been helped by local quips from election candidates Cllr Martin Kenny SF and Gerry Reynolds FG.
Cllr Kenny described the announcement “as nothing more than an election stunt four weeks out from a general election.”
However, Fine Gael candidate Gerry Reynolds said the “Future of St Patrick’s Hospital is secure.” He told the paper, “I listened with dismay today to the comments by Cllr Martin Kenny, Sinn Fein, who suggested that this announcement was no more than ‘an election stunt’.
“It would suit Cllr Kenny’s political agenda if there was no announcement of funding where he would continue to make a political issue around the provision of the new 90 bed facility.”
Responding, Cllr Kenny told the paper “We have seen promises from this government in the past in relation to health services in this region. Before the last election we had our local Fine Gael TDs promise that cancer services would be restored to Sligo General Hospital and that A&E service would be retained in Roscommon hospital. As we found out these were nothing but empty promises.”
He welcomed a new hospital but is “very sceptical about the timing of this announcement.” He also said the day care issues should be restored now, it “wouldn’t cost anything near €16m, in fact it could be provided now, through hiring a few additional nurses and front line staff. If this were done as a first step, the promise of a new hospital would become more believable.”
Mr Reynolds, who is a businessman in Carrick-on-Shannon, said “This is the announcement that myself, Government representatives and the action committee had lobbied for since the HIQA report last year and I can assure Martin Kenny that this announcement is happening because my party in Government in partnership with the people has steered us away from the economic catastrophe to growth of over 7% ensuring funding can be provided for much-needed capital announcements.”
Reynolds also encouraged the HSE to explore every opportunity to develop the return of a 5 day nurse led day care centre “which has provided an invaluable service to our local elderly population in South Leitrim”.
The Friends of St Patrick’s thanked the community for their support and the HSE that made the submission for the new facility.
“This is an example of positive dialogue at community level achieving progress in a key area of health policy,” they stated.
They said “We are still committed to achieving a return to 5-day nurse-led care i.e. having nursing staff constantly present during the opening hours of the Day Care hospital. We are currently in dialogue with the HSE on this matter.”
The HSE Chief Officer for the North West Area, John Hayes said in the meantime “upgrading and refurbishment of facilities will continue at St Patrick's to address the care needs of residents."
The HSE are still recruiting staff for the nursing unit in Ballinamore and hope to transfer 20 patients from St Patrick's Hospital to Ballinamore shortly.