THE Health Service Executive (HSE) have been attacked for their “devastating” decision to close 17 respite care beds at St Ita’s Hospital in Newcastle West.
The measure was announced this week as part of the HSE’s move to implement cost-cutting measures across its Mid-West operation, which it claims was already €20 million over budget so far this year.
St Ita’s has been forced to close the short-stay beds from this week after the HSE ordered an end to the use of agency staff to fill vacancies left by retirements and sick leave.
It is understood that since the start of 2011, 19 staff at St Ita’s have retired, while a further five are on long-term sick leave and one is on maternity leave. These positions were previously filled by agency nurses, due to the ongoing HSE recruitment ban.
Fergus Scanlan, chairman of the Friends of St Ita’s group who have raised over €3 million for the hospital to date, described the decision as “devastating”.
“It’s a big blow, without a doubt. This is the end of a service that is impacting the most vulnerable people.
“For the families of those patients, it would be the only bit of relief they get. It’s a huge loss”.
Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins called on the Government to reverse the move, which he said was a “gross insult” to the people of West Limerick.
“I am calling on the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Health James Reilly to honour their solemn commitment to the people of West Limerick to protect front line services in our region.
“I have been contacted by many patients and their families from across West Limerick, as well as staff from St Ita’s, who are very upset by the decision to go ahead with the closure of 17 respite beds.”
In a statement issued this week, the HSE said that they “simply do not have the funding” to continue employing agency staff to fill vacancies in hospitals across the Mid-West.
As well as at St Ita’s, 15 short stay non-acute beds have been closed at St Camillus’ Hospital in Limerick city, while five have been closed at Raheen CNU. Beds have also been closed in Thurles and Roscrea.
HSE senior operations manager for Limerick and North Tipperary, Maria Bridgeman, said that “every effort is being made to minimize the impact of these service reductions, which we are keeping under constant review”.