Deputy Micheál Martin: Last July, the Minister for Health and deputy leader of Fine Gael met with all the Laois Dáil Deputies regarding their concerns about the future role of Portlaoise General Hospital and particularly their concerns that there would be no reduction of accident and emergency services in that hospital.  In subsequent radio interviews, many Deputies, including Fine Gael’s Deputy Charles Flanagan, made it clear to the people of Laois that the Minister had given a commitment to retaining accident and emergency services at the hospital.  However, the Health Service Executive has written to the Committee of Public Accounts outlining the actual plans for Portlaoise, which appear to be quite the opposite of the commitments made by the Taoiseach’s deputy leader.  Under this plan, Portlaoise Hospital will be downgraded to a level 2 hospital, which will mean that the accident and emergency department will be a medical assessment unit dealing with low-risk patients only.  There are also reports that, as a result, the intensive care unit will be removed.

We know that all sorts of commitments and promises were made over the last 12 months around the country.  We know this because of the broken promises made about Roscommon Hospital.  It is clear, however, that Portlaoise is in a different category given the Census 2011 results which show that the area’s population has grown by about 20% to unprecedented levels.  Some 41,000 patients were seen in the hospital’s accident and emergency unit last year alone.

In the last six months, the Minister for Health has taken personal charge of the HSE and his Department has underspent by about €40 million.  Can the Taoiseach confirm what the plans are for Portlaoise Hospital?  Will he confirm what is contained in the HSE’s communication to the Committee of Public Accounts as regards Portlaoise being downgraded to a level 2 hospital? 

The Taoiseach: I have heard rumours and comment about Portlaoise and a number of other hospitals.  The Minister for Health informs me that there are no plans to downgrade Portlaoise Hospital from module 3 to module 2.  I do not know what plan Deputy Martin is quoting from.  This is an important, busy hospital in the midlands and the figures speak for themselves.  The Committee on Health and Children will obviously consider all the reports concerning hospitals but, as I stand here this morning, there are no plans to downgrade Portlaoise Hospital from module 3 to module 2.

Deputy Micheál Martin: I am referring to a document which was sent to the Committee of Public Accounts by the HSE’s national director for integrated services, performance and financial management, Laverne McGuinness.

Deputy James Reilly: What is the date?

Deputy Micheál Martin: It clearly states that a medical assessment unit in a module 2 local hospital was for GP-referred, differentiated medical patients with a low risk of requiring full resuscitation.  It lists all the hospitals, including Ennis, Portlaoise, Nenagh, Navan, Roscommon, Loughlinstown, St. John’s in Limerick, and Dún Laoghaire.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: That was when the Deputy was in Government.

Deputy Micheál Martin: It was in July of this year, when the Minister met with the Deputies concerned.  The document is dated 26 July 2011.  Therefore, at the same time the Minister was meeting those Deputies, the HSE wrote to the Committee of Public Accounts.  It is coming up tomorrow at that committee.

Deputy Micheál Martin: The issue is that different commitments are being made to different people, while different stories are being told on an ongoing basis.  The HSE communication states that a medical assessment unit is in development in Portlaoise.  The only reason it is in development is to replace the accident and emergency facility.

The Taoiseach: I have just been speaking to the Minister for Health about this.  I respect Deputy Martin bringing in the letter he mentioned from 26 July, but there is no capacity in the system to reduce a hospital like this to level 2, nor is there any intention of so doing.  What the Deputy has there has no status in the context of the Government making decisions about this.

The Taoiseach: I can confirm, on behalf of the Minister for Health, that there is absolutely no intention of reducing Portlaoise from level 3 to level 2.