An attendance of over 250 people gathered in the Tower Hotel on Wednesday evening in connection with the pending closure of Saint Bridget’s Ward in Saint Patrick’s Hospital, Waterford.
The meeting was chaired by Eamonn Griffin of the Friends of Saint Patrick’s Hospital and it was addressed by Margaret Flavin on behalf of the Friends group. Other speakers included medical practitioner Dr Eithne Brenner, school principal Michael White and Freeman of the City, award winning actor, Dr Anna Manahan. All the speakers were critical of the HSE but Ms Manahan, in particular, was scathing in her comments.
The meeting heard that the HSE is insisting that the ward must close and that the 19 occupants of Saint Bridget’s would be accommodated elsewhere in Saint Patrick’s as space became available. The concerned gathering was also informed that a copy of a report relating to the ward closure was not forthcoming from the HSE on request.
Speakers also poured scorn on the HSE’s assertion that an additional unit for Saint Patrick’s was in the pipeline. The meeting was told such a unit had been promised for many years and, to date, no application for planning had been submitted to the City Council.
However, a statement issued by the HSE, following a meeting with Oireachtas members, local Councillors and the Friends of St. Patrick’s Hospital, insisted that there were firm proposals for a new, 50-bed community nursing unit in the grounds of the hospital. The Local Health Manager for Waterford, Dermot Halpin, also confirmed that the HSE had no plans to close the hospital, either now or in the future, and that it would remain at the centre of public residential care for older people in the city.
In the statement, the HSE outlined the reasons why it intended providing ground floor accommodation for the elderly patients currently cared for in the 19-bed, upper-floor St. Bridget’s Ward.
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“We are entering a new era on standards for residential care for older people and we must move to address current shortcomings in our existing facilities”, said Mr Halpin. “Our first concern is for the elderly patients themselves. We have a responsibility to them to ensure that the new and emerging standards for quality and safety are applied to their care; that we meet standards for infection prevention and control, environmental standards and fire and health and safety standards.
“For these reasons it is not viable to continue to accommodate patients in this area of St. Patrick’s Hospital, nor is it viable to refurbish the ward to the required standards”, he insisted.
“The Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, sets national standards based on best practice within Ireland and internationally that are developed in consultation with people using the service, health professionals and the general public. These ensure that the standards developed are meaningful, measurable and will support the delivery of high quality and safe standards of care.
“Patients will not be moved out of St. Patrick’s Hospital. As vacancies arise on the ground floor, we will, in consultation with the patients themselves and their families, relocate patients from St. Bridget’s Ward to beds downstairs as they become available. The upstairs 19-bed ward will no longer accept admissions”, revealed Mr Halpin.
The Local Health Manager also said that, despite claims that the move would reduce the number of beds to just 72 for older people in the Waterford Local Health office area (Waterford city, County and South Kilkenny), the reality was that there were more than 750 beds available with an average of 80-100 vacancies at any one time.
“We are moving to increase the number of beds available. We have already arranged a number of private nursing home beds and a total of 30 beds are being introduced”, he said.
Mr Halpin also confirmed that the HSE intended to build a new Community Nursing Unit for older people in Waterford city. The planned 50-bed Nursing Unit would provide therapy, rehabilitation and medical care to older people who no longer needed acute hospital care or who could no longer be maintained in their own homes.
He said the new Community Nursing Unit would eventually replace St. Bridget’s Ward. Plans were being advanced under a national process for Design and Build Community Nursing Units. Within HSE South, Waterford was identified as the top priority location for the next phase of that programme. It was anticipated that the detailed design and planning process could commence in the second half of 2009 with site investigations being advanced currently.
“In case the planning authority raises objections to our preferred site on the grounds of St. Patrick’s, we have a further three sites in the city currently being surveyed by the architects”, added Dermot Halpin.
He acknowledged the excellent care provided by the staff at St. Patrick’s Hospital and the significant and valued contribution of the Friends of Saint Patrick’s Hospital Committee and said the HSE looked forward to working closely with them into the future.
The HSE’s commitment to developing services for older people in Co Waterford was further evidenced with the new hospital facilities in Dungarvan which included a total of 32 beds – 24 replacement and eight new beds and a further new 15-bed day hospital. Those new facilities would open later this year, said Mr Halpin.