IF the HSE or the Department of Health have plans to reduce, curtail or close any departments within Portlaoise hospital they will be met with a storm of protest.
A meeting convened by the Portlaoise Hospital Action Committee last Wednesday night heard calls from hospital consultants, local GPs, clergy, politicians and the community to join forces in rejecting any plan to downgrade the A&E unit at the hospital.
There has been outrage in the county following the release of a leaked document drawn up by the head of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group Dr Susan O’Reilly and the HSE to reduce A&E hours at Portlaoise hospital to an 8am to 8pm minor injury unit. The HSE’s plan also says that trauma patients will no longer be accepted at the hospital. Instead, they will be brought by ambulance to Dublin hospitals, by-passing Naas hospital on their way.
There were emotional scenes at last week’s meeting, with founding member of Friends of Portlaoise Hospital and the Portlaoise Hospital Action Committee Dick Sides, now in his 80s, asking people to take to the streets over the issue.
And it was not just Mr Sides who called for street protest. The majority of speakers among the 300 or so who attended the meeting said that they were not going to sit back and accept any downgrading of the hospital.
Some of those present called on the three TDs in the county to stand up and be counted on the issue, with one speaker calling on minister Charlie Flanagan to resign from the Fine Gael party if the hospital is downgraded in any way.
One woman summed up the feeling of the meeting when she said: “Dr O’Reilly and the HSE don’t give a damn about Portlaoise hospital or about the people of Laois. The people now need to get out onto the streets and show that crowd what we are made of.”