The HSE has downplayed suggestions that Waterford Regional Hospital is to become the only acute hospital in the entire south east region, a move that is likely to cause outrage amongst patients’ groups. 

It has been claimed that a reconfiguring of hospitals in the south-east, along the same lines as plans announced on Tuesday for the HSE south area, would result in Waterford becoming a regional “centre of excellence”, supported by a number of local ‘centres of excellence’, at Wexford, Kilkenny and Clonmel. Despite improvement works amounting to tens of millions of euros in recent years, this would signify a considerable downgrading of the latter hospitals and concentration of services at Waterford. 

This refocusing of services could mean an estimated 90,000 extra emergency department attendances at WRH per anum, along with all overnight surgical cases, paediatric care and most medical admissions for the region. Furthermore, an estimated 9,000 births could take place at Waterford every year. 

A report leaked to the national media late last month claimed Emergency Departments (EDs) at Wexford Regional Hospital, St Luke’s General Hospital, Kilkenny and South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel were without ‘clinical viability now or sustainability into the future’. Each of these EDs has an approximate attendance of 30,000 patients a year. 

The review of acute services in the Health Service Executive (HSE) South also proposes that the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin be a referral centre supporting obstetric units at Wexford General and St Luke’s General and that Cork University Maternity Hospital be a referral centre supporting obstetrics at Waterford Regional. 

The report says that hospitals in the south-east “fall well short of providing acute care to the recommended [international standard] minimum population of 350,000-500,000 for a regional centre of excellence, the actual range being from some 80,000 to 150,000”. Instead, it’s proposing that local centres at Wexford, Kilkenny and Clonmel concentrate on the provision of all non-acute care, including outpatient clinics for the majority of specialities, adult day surgery delivered by outreach teams, nurse/therapy-led services including rehabilitation, nurse-led urgent care centres open 12 hours per day, seven days a week, to treat minor illness and injury and enhanced diagnostic services. 

A spokesperson for the HSE told The Munster Express that not 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’. 

And the HSE confirmed on Tuesday its plans to centralise acute hospital care in the southern region to Cork University Hospital. 

“International evidence shows that up to 95% of healthcare that a person will ever need can be provided locally outside of acute hospitals”, the spokesperson continued. “This is clearly more convenient for patients and frees up acute hospitals to concentrate on specialist and complex care. It is against this backdrop towards a more community-based healthcare service that the HSE must review how health services are delivered, particularly through local and regional hospitals.”

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.