Minister for Housing Willie Penrose has said he does not entirely trust the HSE as doubts surrounding the future status of Mullingar General Hospital entered a second week.
Mr Penrose was speaking just days after health executives poured cold water on mounting speculation the Midland Regional Hospital was to lose its 24 hour accident and emergency service.
The Labour minister vowed to keep a close watch on the situation, despite receiving official confirmation from HSE regional director Gerry O’Dwyer that acute services at the hospital would remain intact.
“I am always cagey and wary about every response given by the HSE,” he said at last week’s ‘Better Estates Awards’ ceremony inside a packed Temperance Hall.
“I think we have to remain vigilant. I mean there is going to be changes; there are changes right across hospital structures in every area. But I would hope if there are changes that there would be some enhancements to the facilities in Mullingar as I think it is important we maintain our links with Dublin.”
Doubts over the HSE and its future plans for Mullingar Hospital has become somewhat of a contentious issue for Mr Penrose in recent times.
Just over a year ago, Deputy Penrose led thousands of concerned protestors on a march in Mullingar town amid fears about a reduction in A&E opening hours.
Some 14 months later, the issue is back on the agenda.
“It’s very important to keep the key services in Mullingar particularly in terms of the A&E. I mean the Minister (of Health, James Reilly) has advocated that the money will follow the patient and on that basis is it is clear Mullingar comes out on top of the pile. It has been in the top three for the past eight or nine years,” he said.
Mr Penrose accepted political leaders were not always best positioned to meddle in decisions taken by medical experts, but said there was some merit in government leaders giving added responsibility back to public representatives, akin to the structure once enjoyed by the country’s former ten regional health boards.
“The HSE, you have to be eternally vigilant of them,” he bluntly put it. “I am somebody who takes what they say with a pinch of salt and I have argued with them before in that context and that’s why I think it is a great shame that the democratic input has been taken away from the old health boards. As I said before when we organised the marches, this was above politics and I still believe that to be the case.”
Deputy Penrose was speaking to the Leader at the Better Estates Awards in Longford last Thursday. Full details of the Awards Ceremony on page 16.