Waterford TD, Mary Butler has said that she is shocked at the sudden and unforeseen closure of a further 19 beds at the Sacred Heart Unit at Dungarvan Community Hospital over the weekend.

“Like everyone else, I was taken aback by the announcement last Friday evening that the remaining 19 beds would be closed at the hospital as a result of staff shortages. The way it was announced on the eve of a Bank Holiday weekend was, I believe, an attempt to bury the story in the hope that it might go away.

“In January 2017, seven beds were closed, and the closure of the remaining 19 beds is a major blow to West Waterford.

“The Sacred Heart Unit provides vital rehabilitation and physio services for patients recovering from stroke or major accidents.

“The HSE should have been upfront with all the relevant stakeholders, including public representatives, well in advance of this decision.

“All over the weekend, family members of patients have been in contact with me deeply concerned about where their loves ones will be moved to. The unit allowed people from the West Waterford area stay close to their family and friends.

“Clearly there are issues with nurse recruitment and retention, but sticking your head in the sand and not letting those who will be directly affected by a decision to close know in advance has resulted in serious disturbance and annoyance.

“What must now happen is that alternative local beds need to be found to cater for those who have had to move out.

“The Minister needs to set out how he will address the chronic shortage of nurses and indeed, doctors, across the health system. We cannot afford to have any reduction in bed capacity in our community hospitals.

“These facilities are a key factor in dealing with the overcrowding in our acute hospitals. If we see further reductions in capacity in places such as Dungarvan, how can we possibly deal with the overcrowding in University Hospital Waterford?

“Only last week, we saw research from the INMO that shows that upwards of 85% of all soon to graduate nursing students are contemplating going overseas to work, rather than staying in the Irish health system.

“Dungarvan Community Hospital, and more importantly its patients and their families, have been let down by the Minister’s and the HSE’s inability to deal with the nursing shortage. It’s time the Minister focused on the core issues addressing the health system such as overcrowding, staff shortages and waiting lists,” concluded Butler.