Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Minister must intervene to protect Loughloe House residents - Ó Caoláin

3 June, 2010 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD


Sinn Féin Health & Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has described as “an outrage” the HSE policy of bed closures in hospitals across the State, following the latest announcement of 60 beds to close at the Mater Hospital, with over 1,000 now closed throughout the 26 Counties.
Speaking in the Dáil on the Health Bill 2010, the Sinn Féin Dáil leader also called on Health Minister Mary Harney to intervene to protect the residents of Loughloe House nursing home in Athlone which the HSE is trying to close and residents of which, he said, are being warned not to talk to public representatives or the media.
Ó Caoláin said:
“Today again we see the outcome of the savage health cutbacks being imposed. 60 beds are to be closed in the Mater Hospital. This follows the 62 closed in Beaumont. In my own constituency we learned yesterday that a whole range of services are to be closed for long periods over the summer at Cavan and Monaghan General Hospitals.
“But it gets worse. Figures supplied by the INMO show that as of 28 May there were over 1,000 beds closed around this State. The HSE is discharging long-term care patients and then closing the beds – after the Minister and the HSE have spent years telling us that the discharging of such patients would free up acute beds in our hospitals. Now they are simply being closed. It is an outrage.”

On the HSE’s attempts to close Loughloe House in Athlone, Ó Caoláin said:
“Since the HSE announcement on Thursday 6 May of its disgraceful decision to close Loughloe House, two of the residents have had strokes - one of whom is currently gravely ill in Mullingar Hospital. Another two had heart attacks, one of whom died in Loughloe House four days after the announcement. One died after moving from Loughloe House to St. Vincent’s in Athlone.

“Residents have been warned not to talk to press or public representatives. Residents are threatened that they will be moved to Roscommon or Ballinasloe if they don’t take the nursing home offered to them. One resident was even threatened with the street if she didn’t take a bed in another nursing home.
“I implore the Minister to intervene now, to protect the residents, prevent the closure, prevent their eviction from their home. Order an independent investigation by HIQA and/or another agency into the HSE’s treatment of these vulnerable older people.”

Full text
Health (Miscellaneous Provisions Bill0 2010
2nd Stage 3.6.10
I oppose this Bill. It implements the closure of St. Luke’s Hospital to facilitate the putting in place of a so-called National Plan for Radiation Oncology which provides for four radiation oncology centres – two in Dublin, one in Cork, one in Galway and with what are termed satellite centres in Waterford and Limerick.
It is not a national plan. It is not an all-Ireland plan. It is not a national plan because none of the proposed centres are north of a line from Dublin to Galway. Huge swathes of the country will not be served and cancer patients in those regions will have to travel unacceptably long distances to have access to radiation oncology treatment. The healthcare rights and needs of the people of the Border Counties and most of the Western sea-board are being neglected yet again.
We should not be surprised at this. Fianna Fáil health policy, as implemented by the so-called Independent Minister and the HSE, is denying the rights and failing to meet the needs of people every day in our health system.
Today again we see the outcome of the savage health cutbacks being imposed. 60 beds are to be closed in the Mater Hospital. This follows the 62 closed in Beaumont. In my own constituency we learned yesterday that a whole range of services are to be closed for long periods over the summer at Cavan and Monaghan General Hospitals. So much for all the false promises of the Minister and the HSE about the range of care services that would be provided at Monaghan General Hospital after it was axed as an acute hospital. These services can now be opened and closed at will as if the HSE was running a corner sweet shop instead of a vital healthcare facility.
But it gets worse. Figures supplied by the INMO show that as of 28 May there were over 1,000 beds closed around this State. The HSE is discharging long-term care patients and then closing the beds – after the Minister and the HSE have spent years telling us that the discharging of such patients would free up acute beds in our hospitals. Now they are simply being closed. It is an outrage.

I want to raise here as a matter of urgency with the Minister, and as a matter directly relevant to Section 14 of this Bill, the plight of residents in Loughloe House in Athlone and their families.

As the Minister knows, the recent HIQA report on Loughloe House did not recommend closure. It recommended important improvements, mainly in management, that can and should be made in order to keep this home open for current and future residents. But I have to report to the Minister – if she does not already know – that the response of the HSE has been nothing short of scandalous.

Since the HSE announcement on Thursday 6 May of its disgraceful decision to close Loughloe House, two of the residents have had strokes - one of whom is currently gravely ill in Mullingar Hospital. Another two had heart attacks, one of whom died in Loughloe House four days after the announcement. One died after moving from Loughloe House to St. Vincent’s in Athlone.

Residents have been warned not to talk to press or public representatives. Residents are threatened that they will be moved to Roscommon or Ballinasloe if they don’t take the nursing home offered to them. One resident was even threatened with the street if she didn’t take a bed in another nursing home.

Staff were instructed to wake a man from his sleep to tell him that he was leaving that day. Another resident was threatened with the door for “inciting other residents to get them to stay”.

The stress on residents, their families, and staff is unbearable.

Before the announcement the last person in the home to die suddenly was a man who died from a heart attack a couple of years ago.

I implore the Minister to intervene now, to protect the residents, prevent the closure, prevent their eviction from their home.

Order an independent investigation by HIQA and/or another agency into the HSE’s treatment of these vulnerable older people.

Turning to the bulk of the bill before us, Sinn Féin has supported the retention and further development of St. Luke’s Hospital. We hear a lot from the Government about centres of excellence. St. Luke’s has clearly been a centre of excellence for cancer care for many years yet the Government wants to close it down.
The Government has failed to heed the testimony of current and former patients and staff at St. Luke’s Hospital about the need to review and reverse the decision to close this facility. The experience of St. Luke’s is replicated in hospitals around the country which this Government wishes to downgrade or close down altogether. It is following a policy of over-centralisation of services and privatisation of services. This policy is driven by commercial interests rather than the interests of patients. It is a policy which rewards the private healthcare sector with land on public hospital sites and tax breaks to develop private for-profit hospitals. At the same time it wishes to close down long-standing, tried and trusted facilities such as St. Luke’s.

Cancer patients have been denied life-saving treatment because successive governments have failed to provide the radiation oncology facilities that are required. This dire need has been recognised for many years and the Government had ample time and a booming economy to plan and budget for the provision of radiotherapy centres.
The State could and should have taken the lead and provided these centres directly as public facilities open to all on the basis of need alone. Instead the Government committed itself to public-private partnerships (PPP) to deliver them. Then it was found these would take too long. Then a review was ordered. This is what has led to the delay in delivery to 2014 or 2015.
Minister Harney told us that the planned centres may have to be provided entirely by the private sector. Professor Drumm told us the public sector can do it. Delay is piled upon delay and patients are dying.
This Fianna Fáil/PD/Green Government is attempting to shirk its responsibility for the chaotic state of cancer care services. Fianna Fáil-led Governments for the past decade have has presided over a catalogue of failures and delays in cancer care.

What is needed urgently is comprehensive public cancer care provided in the public healthcare system and available to all based on need alone, regardless of ability to pay and without discrimination based on geographic location. St. Luke’s Hospital should have a central role in such a renewed and reformed system.

The Government has ensured that there will be no democratic accountability for these decisions. It has insulated the HSE from any responsibility to the local communities it is supposed to serve. Minister Harney has insulated herself from proper accountability in the Dáil.
For all these reasons I reject this Bill.

Connect with Sinn Féin