There are many problems facing the Health service in the Western Region as we learned at a briefing for Oireachtas members with the HSE West the the Saolta Group today (Tuesday) and I will be putting pressure on the Government and the Minister for Health to address those problems immediately.
n There are a number of interesting and some worrying aspects of our health service to emerge from that briefing. Firstly the recently agreed Public Service pay agreement will cost the Saolta Group an extra 3.4 million Euro which will have to be taken from the annual budget. The employees are well entitled to their pay rises but the Minister has pulled a fast one here and this increase in expenditure was not planned or included in this years’ budget. In addition, the group are owed up to 5 million Euro by health insurance companies. If the current rate of expenditure is maintained there will be a defecit this year in the region of 36.6 million Euro. Unless the Government steps in, this figure will have to be brought forward to 2018 and I would be worried that with that size of defecit, front line services would be affected.
It has also emerged that there is no board running the affairs of the Saolta Group at the moment which is unacceptable. We were also told that the numbers of babies being born within the group is down. I asked the question about rumours that there were to be some maternity services downgraded but they denied that any downgrading was being planned at all.
Activity at Roscommon county hospital was down in 2016 but it is expected to rise this year. Activity at Portiuncla A and E is up in the region of 2,000 visits in 2016. With regard to cancer and cardiac services there is currently a link between the saolta Group and hospitals in Letterkenny and Sligo and talks are ongoing with hospitals in the north to develop two more services in the near future.
With regard to a new A and E unit for University Hospital Galway, it could take as long as five years before a new A and E unit is ready with appraisal, planning and design and the tender process which is a very long time. One wonders if it would not be better to plan ahead 50 years and a brand new hospital on the site of Merlin Park which is something that I have proposed in the past.
It also emerged at today’s briefing that the Saolta Group are employing 800 more staff than they did in 2012 and I have asked as to how many of those staff are frontline and how many are in administration and they are to come back to me on that.
Clearly there are many problems facing our health service in the West and it is something that I will be raising with the Minister and the Government at my earliest opportunity.