Mary Lou McDonald says ‘people power’ can save Navan Hospital as locals attend protest meeting

“I WOULDN’T BE here if it wasn’t for Navan Hospital, and that’s the God honest truth.”

Those were the words of Deirdre Butler from Kells, one of the 150 or so people that turned up at a public meeting organized by Sinn Féin in Navan last night over the closure of the emergency department at the local hospital.

Butler explained how she had sought treatment in the hospital after a dog bite, telling the crowd that it was urgent that she was seen quickly.

She told the crowd that if she had to travel to Drogheda, she doesn’t believe she would have survived.

“We can’t let this hospital go,” she said.

Controversy has rumbled over the future of Our Lady’s Hospital after the HSE announced the final phase for the Co Meath hospital becoming a “model 2” facility last week.

The HSE insisted that the new Medical Assistance Unit (MAU) will still be able to facilitate around 80% of the current number of patients who present to the ED every day.

However, it has been confirmed that the planned MAU will be based on GP referrals 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while a proposed injury unit will be walk-in.

Despite the HSE announcing the downgrading of the emergency department, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar have said no Government decision on the ED closure had been agreed with the HSE.

‘Taking a knife’ to services

There was only a standing room in the function room of the Newgrange Hotel in Navan last night, when Sinn Féin leader Mary McDonald told the crowd attending that it was not true to claim that “taking a knife” to emergency services at Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan will improve healthcare services.

“I have no doubt that people here at this meeting this evening could give countless examples of where that facility at Navan Hospital was essential to you and your loved ones,” she said.

A number of people did speak up.

Bridget Quinn spoke about having a number of ailments. “I need that hospital,” she said.

A young man stood to his feet to say he had been involved in a campaign to save the hospital over ten years ago, and that he couldn’t believe he was back at a public meeting still fighting for the services to remain in the town.

Independent councilor Gillian Toole, who is also a pharmacist locally, spoke about the pressure that is already on the GP service.

She said that some doctors are already telling patients to go to the emergency department, such is the long wait time to get an appointment with a GP.

Christy McQuillan, who described himself as a trade unionist activist, said the latest struggle is “a community struggle”.

He said he was worried to hear some medical workers speaking out in agreement with the HSE, claiming that they should be fighting to keep services in the town.

“This challenge is as big as we have ever taken on,” he said.

Clinicians at Navan Hospital, including the clinical director of the hospital Gerry McEntee, have said that there are serious risks to patient care in how ill-equipped the hospital is to treat sick patients.

“I don’t know if the public really realizes but this cohort of critically ill patients, who by virtue of the fact of coming into Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan, are not provided with the best chance of survival,” he said.

Headache

As the meeting kicked off last night, such was the crowd that gathered that a divide in the function room had to be removed, an indication that this, while being a local issue, is one that could cause a big headache for the Government.

Sinn Féin plans to put down a motion in the Dáil today calling for the HSE’s proposal to downgrade the emergency department at the hospital to be scrapped.

McDonald said that the spotlight on the issue by her party was not about votes, and that her Meath TDs, as elected reps, had a duty to listen and stand up for the community.

However, there is no doubt that the fact that a senior minister, Justice Minister Helen McEntee, and and two junior ministers, Damien English and Thomas Byrne, hail from the Royal County, makes this issue an easy one for the opposition to target Government on .

Rounding on the Meath ministers, McDonald said: “The silence of some TDs in this county is not credible.” She also said that Government TDs “cannot be silent indefinitely”.

McEntee and English have spoken out about the proposed downgrade, with English saying that he is “really, really annoyed” with the HSE and that politicians in the area had been reassured that new plans for Navan Hospital were done in full consultation with GPs in the area, which he claimed is clearly not the case.

In a statement, English said he had spoken with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly several times in recent days and that he had been assured no decision regarding the HSE’s proposal has been agreed by this Government.

“It is simply not good enough that the HSE tried once again to implement proposals without a consensus from the medical experts in Meath,” he said.

HSE announcement

McDonald also criticized the health minister and questioned how the HSE made an announcement.

“The HSE says one thing, the minister says another,” she said.

“With no one, it seems to me, taking responsibility and that is unacceptable when it comes to a decision that will have very real impacts on the lives of the people of Navan and indeed the surrounding region,” the Sinn Féin leader added.

McDonald told the crowd last night that the downgrading by a thousand cuts of emergency services at Navan hospital was “madness”, particularly at a time when emergency departments across the state are under such severe pressure.

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“What we need now, to put it very directly, is a bit of cop on. A bit of cop on for Minister Donnelly in particular. I think it’s important that he hears the voices in this room, ”she said.

“We cannot achieve the radical improvements badly needed in our health service by taking a knife to emergency services in Navan hospital.

“That’s actually a false argument. The idea that this course of action would somehow improve care, either in Navan or at another location, is simply not true. And the clinicians in Drogheda bear witness to that. Because they tell us already that they struggle to cope. What hope if services in Navan are to cease?

“The example of Limerick should be really taken on board. Ennis closed, Nenagh closed, St John’s closed and when people objected to that, just as you object to the stripping of services at Navan hospital, they were told not to worry.

“That in fact, the situation would improve. Well my friends, it has not. ”

McDonald said University Hospital Limerick was “consistently at the top of the heap” in terms of wait times and trolley counts and that it was not acceptable for the HSE or Donnelly to not listen to locals.

This needs to stop now. I think he needs to appreciate the depth of feeling here in Navan, and accept that the people here will simply not stand for the course of action [the Minister] proposes.

Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson David Cullinane was also in attendance last night.

He urged the people of Navan to “mobilize” and to fill the hall at the next public meeting that is due to be held next week.

“The Government will find it difficult – if not impossible – to take away your hospital” if the community pulls together, if there are feet on the ground and great numbers turn up at the protest march next month.

“I think we can force the Government to do the right thing… people power saved Navan hospital before and you can do it again,” McDonald said.

Another public meeting organized by the Save Navan Hospital group will be held in the town on June 30 with a mass rally organized for Saturday 9 July.

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