As up to 2,000 people took to the streets of Thurles on Saturday last, in protest against cuts at the Community Hospital of the Assumption, it emerged that the Health Minister, Dr. James Reilly hopes to be in a position to restore services from January next.
Staff and patients at the Hospital had reacted angrily to the closure of respite beds, following a decision by the Health Services Executive to cease funding agency staff. That decision had led to the closure of 22 respite beds which provide essential relief to the elderly and infirm. The service also provides comfort and relief to strained carers, who benefit from a much needed break from the daily task of tending to ill and elderly relatives.
What had particularly angered staff and patients in this first class facility was that the Hospital had at all times remained within its designated budget and that it was, in effect, paying for the inefficiencies of other centres.
That such a vast number of people would take to the streets and vent their anger and frustration at the decision was a clear indication of the respect and esteem in which the Community Hospital of the Assumption is held and its patent importance, not just to the people of Thurles but throughout North Tipperary.
Dr. Reilly’s assurance will have come as a welcome relief to all those who have lent their unconditional support to the services provided by the Hospital but this is, nevertheless, not a time for complacency.
The stark warning of painful cuts in the forthcoming budget, of increased austerity measures and the restriction of services in all areas of Government activity does not bode well for the restoration of services which have already ceased or expansions in other areas of activity.
Dr. Reilly was said to have given a “strong commitment” to improving matters at the Community Hospital and has promised to look at the situation again in January. He told members of a delegation which met with him last week that due to budget over-runs this year in the Hospital expenditure budget nothing could be done in relation to the bed closures before Christmas.
However, the very over-runs Dr. Reilly refers to were not created by the management or staff of the Community Hospital of the Assumption. Yet they are expected to bear the brunt of the resultant cutbacks. Surely sanctions for over expenditure should rest first and foremost with those who have created the problem and those who have assiduously managed their affairs should be rewarded rather than punished.
Dr. Reilly did indicate that he is fully committed to providing adequate community services, including nursing homes and community hospitals, and said that he hopes to be in a position to restore services at the Community Hospital of the Assumption in the new year.
His aspirations are indeed laudatory but they are precisely that – aspirations. No firm guarantee has been given that the beds which closed will definitely re-open in January. Nor has it been established that those who in future fail to live with the budgets allocated to them will be expected to implement cuts within their own range of activities rather than expecting others to suffer the consequences of their actions.
It is vitally important in current circumstances not to be complacent. Dr. Reilly is undoubtedly a man of his word and will endeavour to do all that he can to restore the services which have been cut. However, he will also be constrained by the budget allocated to him. Let us hope that when the time comes to distribute the resources allotted to him he will have garnered sufficient funds to honour the commitment he has given.
2,000 people have already voiced their trenchant opinions in this matter. There is little doubt that if the services are not fully restored in January that number will grow significantly and those in power will face the not inconsiderable wrath of many more thousands of disenchanted taxpayers.