By George Barrett
An estimated 15 to 20,000 people turned out in Clonmel to protest over the proposed downgrading of South Tipperary General Hospital and the transferring of acute services to Waterford and Kilkenny.
The plan comes just two years after Mary Harney opened the newly refurbished facilities at Clonmel at a cost of €46 million. The protest was organised by the Save Our Services (SOS) campaign group and sent a clear message to the government and the HSE that the people of South Tipperary and surrounding areas will not take these cuts lying down.
The downgrading and transfer would see the removal of acute services such as A&E, General Surgery, Maternity services, Paediatric/Children’s services, Cardiology, coronary care and Intensive Care Units. This would have a devastating effect on the 150,000 people which the hospital serves in Tipperary, East Cork and West Waterford.
Last Year STGH dealt with 33,600 A&E admissions, 4,500 day cases and 1,364 births. With the cut backs in this years budget the money simply is not there for Waterford or Kilkenny to cope with these kinds of admissions.
Consultants at STGH have warned that the closure of the A&E would deprive many patients of the “golden hour”, in which the lives of patients with severe trauma could be saved. The HSE plans rely on motorways and good roads to connect these hospitals together, but as many of us discovered after the big freeze, our roads are anything but satisfactory. This will be a veritable death sentence to many more patients per year. Dr. Chris Luke, an A&E consultant working in Cork, said that the general consensus among consultants was that patients were more at risk in these centres of excellence than in the smaller hospitals.
This is only the first protest in the campaign, and was a real show of people power, but with union backup the campaign could be given a real boost. So far the unions have shown no leadership or desire to protect the quality of services around the country. The unions need to get organised and with the local community fight to save services at South Tipperary General Hospital.