The possibility of Tullamore hospital being grouped with the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise and St James' Hospital in Dublin was raised last week.
The possibility that the Midlands Regional Hospital Tullamore could be amalgamated with the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise and St James's Hospital in Dublin to form a new hospital grouping has been raised this week, prompting fears that it could lead to reduced services in Tullamore.
The Department of Health would neither confirm nor deny reports that the hospitals could be grouped together. Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley said late last week that he was concerned the potential grouping would lead to a reduction in services locally and said any downgrading of the hospital would have to be fought tooth and nail. However, Fine Gael's Cllr Tommy McKeigue welcomed the idea, suggesting that it might cut down waiting lists and would benefit Tullamore by giving it access to specialities at St James's.
It was reported in The Herald newspaper last week that plans to join the three hospitals are already afoot and are being examined by the Health Department's special delivery unit, though as yet the plan hasn't been approved by Health Minister James Reilly.
The HSE referred the Offaly Independent to the Department of Health when a query was lodged locally. A statement received from that department last Thursday confirmed that hospital groupings are being developed, but went no further.
"The Minister has said that hospitals will be formed into non statutory groups ahead of the formation of Independent Hospital Trusts," the statement began. "Work has begun to develop proposals but this is still at development state," it continued.
The statement said that final hospital groupings would be decided by government "in due course" but that there would be engagement ahead of any decisions being taken.
Industrial Relations Officer with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) Lorraine Monaghan confirmed, however, that such a grouping involving the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore was brought up at meetings over a year ago. However, she said details on any grouping haven't been explored as yet. "I don't know what's happening with it or what stage it's at," she said.
Speaking last Thursday Deputy Stanley said the outcome of such a move depends very much on what the hospital grouping would entail. "It's critical local hospitals are not downgraded and people have access to key services," he said. He said his concern would be that a grouping arrangement would lead to a reduction in resources and services at hospitals in Tullamore and Portlaoise. "We'd have to oppose that tooth and nail," he added.
However, Cllr McKeigue said such a move would probably benefit Tullamore, cutting waiting lists and giving local people access to other specialities not in place in the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore. "It makes sense if that module could be developed," he said. "If we're going to be equals it'd be the way forward."