A planned €13m expansion of Waterford Regional Hospital’s Emergency Department, approved by Waterford City Council earlier this month, has sparked fears that three other A&Es in the South East are to be incorporated into the city-based service.
This would mean an estimated 90,000 extra emergency department attendances at WRH per annum.
Last June, the HSE downplayed suggestions that WRH was to become the only acute hospital in the south east, along the same lines as plans announced for Cork University Hospital in the HSE South area, with the possible closure of A&E departments at Wexford Regional Hospital, St Luke’s General Hospital, Kilkenny and South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel. Each of these currently has an approximate attendance of 30,000 patients a year
However the health service has since pressed ahead with plans for a two-storey extension at WRH’s emergency department, comprising a ground-floor expansion to the existing emergency department and further medical treatment facilities over the two new upper floors. A new single-storey entrance to the maternity department, an external open canopied seating area and a new entrance to A&E are also contained in the proposal, which is estimated to cost approximately €13 million. The HSE made a similar application for a then €10.5 million expansion of the emergency department in 2007 but these plans were later shelved. A HSE spokesperson told The Munster Express that full funding approval for the expansion programme was ‘currently awaited’.
Though the spokesperson said it could not provide any further information on the plans at this point, aside from stating that they represented an ‘overall improvement of facilities’, there are fears in the locality that an expansion at WRH will signal the demise of A&E services elsewhere in the South East region. Rumours have been circulating for some time that more than one of the region’s smaller hospitals will at least lose their 24-hour emergency service due to budgetary cutbacks, closing from 5pm to 5am. Already, the HSE has centralised regional emergency services at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick, with Nenagh and Ennis hospitals no longer providing a 24-hour emergency service.
The HSE spokesperson told The Munster Express that no decisions had yet been made in relation to the reconfiguration of acute hospitals in the South East. However the spokesperson did confirm that the direction the HSE was taking its services was to provide more and more services in local communities, closer to people’s homes and ‘indeed in their homes where possible’.
The HSE is to launch a comprehensive consultation plan in the south east this year as regards planning the future delivery of services. This is to include meetings with hospital management and staff, clinicians, patient groups, hospital representative/fundraiser groups and public representatives and engagement with general practitioners.