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Clifden Hospital still closed as it struggles to recruit staff

The HSE has not committed to a timeline to reopen Clifden District Hospital as it struggles to recruit care and nursing staff.

Frustration was vented at a public meeting in Clifden Town Hall on Monday, a fortnight to the day after the HSE quietly shut down the hospital’s respite services due to staff shortages.

Minister for Older People, Mary Butler, claimed not to be aware of the issue until it was raised by Galway West Oireachtas members last week.

The closure was to be temporary, but the HSE hasn’t given a date for reopening.

More than 200 people braved heavy rains and attended the public meeting in a show of support to retain health services in the town, which serves Conamara.

There was a sense of déjà vu as speaker after speaker echoed the concerns that were raised at a similar public meeting held in September 2022 to save the hospital.

Dr John P Casey (junior) spoke passionately about the need to retain a hospital in Clifden, and said it needed additional services and investment; and Dr Mark O’Malley was also in attendance.

Speakers included Dáil Deputies Catherine Connolly (Ind) and Maireád Farrell (SF), Senators Seán Kyne (FG) and Pauline O’Reilly (Green) and Galway County Councillors Gerry King (FF), Tom Welby (Ind) and Eileen Mannion (FG), who organised it.

“It is still closed, and there is no date for re-opening. The ban on recruiting nurses has now been lifted, so the HSE are allowed to recruit,” said Cllr Mannion.

“There was a lot of frustration at the meeting that here we were again, having another meeting, and the hospital was closed again. I am equally frustrated. There is no communication to public representatives or to Minister Butler for that matter, which is not good enough,” added Cllr Mannion.

Minister Butler confirmed to Seán Kyne she had acquired a derogation to the embargo on staff recruitment that would allow the HSE to hire staff to reopen seven respite beds.

“In the short-term, agency staff will be utilised while the recruitment process gets underway. I am assured that there is a bespoke panel of staff in place for the hospital, and that the recruitment process should not take too long,” Minister Butler said.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív said the derogation offered a “chink of light”, and would allow recruitment of extra staff for CDH and St Anne’s community nursing unit to ensure they remain open until the new 40-bed facility was built.

He said the closure of CDH was a “significant blow to the community” and he was working with Minister Butler on a solution.

Deputy Connolly said she supported the people of Clifden’s call for the retention and full operation of CDH, which had been under “constant threat of closure” for two years.

She said a fully resourced CDH would take pressure off University Hospital Galway; and it made no sense to send people to Merlin Park for respite.

“It is simply incredible to expect people to make a 150km, or three-hour, round trip in and out of Galway to access essential hospital services that could be provided locally,” Deputy Connolly said.

HSE Community Healthcare West said the closure was not planned and it had prioritised staff to keep St Anne’s open.

“There are currently no patients in CDH. Day services are unaffected. Step down and respite care is not available, but we can accommodate in Merlin Park, Galway.

“We are exploring all avenues to open beds in CDH subject to safe staffing. We have three panels in place from which nursing staff can be recruited, two specifically for Clifden. We are conscious of the impact this has in the community and on older people who rely on this service, and it is a priority for us to remedy the situation as soon as possible,” the HSE added.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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