Elected members of the local town council have adopted a motion calling on the Fine Gael leader to attend a special meeting of the authority to discuss growing concerns in the community over the future of the Sacred Heart Hospital and Mayo General Hospital.
Although Fine Gael Councillor Brendan Henaghan had seconded the original proposal, a bid by his party seeking the attendance of a HSE West representative rather than Deputy Kenny was rejected by five votes to four.
Now An Taoiseach will be expected to find time in his busy schedule for the talks in order to avoid embarrassing accusations that he is avoiding an issue that is evolving into a hot political potato on his own doorstep.
The four-strong Fine Gael group on the council had come under strong attack following the April meeting when they opposed a motion tabled by Independent Councillor Frank Durcan calling on the council to write a letter Deputy Kenny asking him to restore the Sacred Heart Hospital to its full-bed capacity.
They voted against it on the grounds it should have been addressed to Health Minister Dr. James Reilly rather than Deputy Kenny.
The motion, however, was carried with the support of Councillor Harry Barrett (Lab.), Councillor Blackie Gavin (FF), Councillor Michael Kilcoyne (Ind.) and Councillor Thérése Ruane (SF).
When Councillor Durcan asked at the May meeting of the authority if there had been a response from Deputy Kenny to the council’s letter, feelings of unease spread across the Fine Gael bench.
While Marie Crowley, town clerk, subsequently acknowledged that she had ‘inadvertently neglected to issue the letter to the Taoiseach’, the pressure was not lifted from FG shoulders.
Ms. Crowley issued the letter last Wednesday morning in which she requested a reply to the council’s concerns within a three day period. Once the response is received, an onus is placed on the Mayor, Councillor Eugene McCormack, to hold a special meeting with Deputy Kenny
Councillor Durcan stated a medical officer was not assigned to the facility from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. daily and nursing staff were not happy with the attitude of HSE West management.
He explained patients and their families were genuinely worried by the workload placed on staff and feared for the future of the hospital after the number of beds had been cut to 124.
Said Councillor Durcan: “Something has to be done to halt the downgrading of the facility, If people have to take to the streets to display their opposition, then we will stand with them.
“There are also concerns about proposals to transfer Mayo General Hospital into the Galway/Roscommon group of hospitals and the implications from a budgetary and services perspective.
“If that happens, we’ll end up getting the thin edge of the wedge. We’ll get nothing and our TDs will have betrayed the trust invested in them. This matter is of the utmost importance as not a man, woman or child in this county will be able to access the kind of service Dr. Reilly wants to provide.”
Councillor Henaghan said he was prepared to second Councillor Durcan’s motion because of his interest in finding out the exact situation.
Councillor Thérése Ruane (SF) supported the moves to fight tooth and nail to ensure the hospital’s future and praised the local Fianna Fail Cumann for holding a protest at the facility on May 14 last.
“I was shocked when I learned the Sacred Heart Home has already been reduced to 125 beds. And when Mayo General Hospital is grouped with the hospitals in Galway and Roscommon, we know services in Castlebar won’t be a priority.
Councillor Michael Kilcoyne (Ind.) claimed Deputy Dara Calleary’s attendance at the FF protest represented ‘the greatest conversion since St. Paul’s on the road to Damascus’.
“He has obviously forgotten that his party in government was responsible for introducing the staff embargo that has led to the current crisis.”
In regard to Deputy John O’Mahony’s statement in last week’s The Connaught Telegraph that Mayo General Hospital is not being downgraded, Councillor Kilcoyne suggested the Fine Gael TD does not know whether he is in government or in opposition.
Councillor Blackie Gavin (FF) said members of his party in Castlebar to continue their campaign to save the Sacred Heart Home, which is widely regarded as a centre of excellence.
“It’s time Fine Gael got the finger out,” he added.
Councillor Henaghan stated a lot of tough decisions have to be made in respect of the health service and the council should write to the HSE West to get answers.
Councillor Ger Deere (FG) agreed the elected members should be furnished with all the facts and figures ‘in order to see the full picture’.
“Let’s think how we can help the Sacred Heart Hospital instead of making a political football out of it.”
Councillor Ruane: “The Taoiseach is our local TD. He has a duty to provide the answers.”
A Fine Gael motion seeking that a represent of the HSE West, rather than An Taoiseach, should be asked to address councillors was rejected by five votes to four.
“The HSE is the problem and it should be abolished,” added Councillor Kilcoyne.