Axe Falls on A& E; Protest by Thousands in Vain as Effort to Save Hospital Emergency Cover in Mid-West Fails

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Byline: Helen Bruce

MASSIVE protests have failed to stop the partial closure of A& E wards at two hospitals in the midwest.

Three thousand people turned out at a weekend rally in Ennis aimed at keeping services at both Ennis and Nenagh open.

Local medical executives also warned that Limerick General hospital is not geared to cope with the extra workload when the A& E cases are transferred there from today.

And as health unions warned they could boycott the move, doctors complained that the transfer of services was being carried out without any prior agreement with local GPs.

But a summit between the HSE and health service unions in Limerick on Saturday decided 'the reconfiguration of the Departments of Emergency Medicine in the Mid- West' will go ahead as planned.

Emergency services will be centralised at Limerick General Hospital, with limited service in Ennis and Nenagh.

A spokesman for the Irish Nurses Organisation confirmed yesterday that its primary fears had, for the most part, been allayed by the meeting with the Labour Relations Commission (LRC).

'The HSE has agreed to put in place contingency measures in the mid-west,' she said.

'And the HSE has assured us there will be no loss of jobs in Nenagh and Ennis hospitals.'

The HSE described the move as a 'new era for emergency services in the mid-west.' It said the new arrangements would lead to improvements in patient safety.

'New local emergency centres in Ennis and Nenagh Hospitals will form part of a fully integrated, region-wide, consultant-led emergency service,' it said.

'The reorganisation of emergency services will ensure that the sickest patients are seen by the most appropriate service as quickly as possible at both the local emergency cen- tres and the Mid Western Regional Hospital in Limerick according to agreed protocols.'

Limited emergency cover will continue in Ennis, and patients can continue to be admitted to Ennis and Nenagh hospitals with the prior arrangement of their GP.

But agreement has been reached with the ambulance service that all trauma, paediatric and obstetric emergencies will go directly to Limerick.

Critics say that Limerick is already over-stretched. At a recent meeting on the decision to end 24-hour A& E services in Ennis, the chairman of the Clare branch of the Irish College of Practitioners, Dr Michael Harty, described the HSE plan as 'not safe, dangerous and irresponsible'.

Health Minister Mary Harney subsequently told the Dail that Limerick had more than enough capacity. …