The continuation of flights between Aran Islands and the mainland remain up in the air this week.
Talks between the owners of Na Minna airport in Connemara and the Department of Gaeltacht are deadlocked as the July 15 deadline for the tendering process approaches.
Despite three and a half months of talks between both sides, agreement hasn’t been reached regarding the cost of using Minna airport.
Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs, Seán Kyne said until the issue of airport costs is determined, companies cannot tender for the service.
He said talks would continue but said they ‘cannot go on forever’. He hoped agreement could be reached before the existing contract for the service expires on September 30.
That contract has already been extended twice and the Attorney General has advised that it cannot be extended a third time.
Minister Kyne met with Galway West Oireachtas members in Dublin on Monday to appraise them of the situation.
Speaking to the Tribune this week he said he is hopeful a resolution can be found.
He said the process is complicated by the fact that there is only one airport, which is owned by a subsidiary of Aer Arann, who is likely to be bidding for the service.
The previous tender stipulated that Galway Airport in Carnmore could be used but that was shot-down by islanders, and the tender process went back to the drawing board.
Companies bidding to provide the new service want to make sure that the existing operator doesn’t have an unfair advantage in relation to the costs of using Minna.
He said he is hopeful a resolution could be found but said it hasn’t happened yet despite fourteen months of talks.
“Obviously we cannot have a situation where there is no air service for islanders. There has to be a resolution. I don’t know what that resolution is but the Department is engaging with the owner of the airport to try and achieve that resolution,” said Minister Kyne.
He said he has no preferred provider, and all he wants to ensure is the people of Aran continue to have a service.
Minister Kyne said the long-term solution – whereby the State buys out Minna airport – could be looked at in the future but that won’t happen before September 30.
“It could be looked at but I’ve heard figures of €3.5 million being quoted and then there’s the operation costs and so on. It would solve the airport costs issue, and the competition but it’s not going to happen in the short-term,” he said.
Galway’s public hospitals short more than 160 nurses and managers
Galway’s two main public hospitals are short more than 160 nurses and clinical nurse managers, Saolta University Healthcare Group has confirmed.
And it has been conceded that staff shortages are impacting on the care patients receive, and on hospital management’s ability to reopen closed wards.
University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park Hospital currently have 141 staff vacancies for nurses.
This figure of vacant nursing posts is likely to be far higher because it does not include the number of staff nurses on maternity leave and relates only to vacant nursing positions.
A further 26 clinical nurse manager positions remain unfilled at UHG.
These are permanent posts and cover a wide range of areas across the acute hospital. The vacant positions are in the Emergency Department as well as on wards, and in areas such as patient flow, clinical facilitators and outpatient services.
Ann Cosgrove, Chief Operating Officer of Saolta, confirmed the staff vacancies in response to a question at the HSE West Regional Health Forum on Tuesday submitted by City Councillor Martina O’Connor (Green), a trained nurse.
Speaking to the Connacht Tribune, Cllr O’Connor said to be down 26 nursing managers and 141 staff nurses was “phenomenal”.
“It’s a huge number and it just goes to show how the hospital is trying to function without these front-line staff who are vital in the day-to-day care of patients on wards and in the Emergency Department,” she said.
Cllr O’Connor said it was “inevitable” that patient care was suffering due to the shortage.
In reply to a question from County Councillor Daithí Ó Cualáin (FF), the Chief Executive Officer of Saolta, Tony Canavan said the Cardiothoracic Ward at UHG has been relocated.
It has 10 patients currently with a further three beds to be opened in the autumn. And he said that the plan is to open 14 beds in St Nicholas’ Ward, “for which staff are being recruited”.
But Conamara Councillor Ó Cualáin, a nurse, said he was “extremely concerned” there were 141 nursing positions vacant.
“This is impacting patient care and putting nursing staff under extreme pressure throughout the hospital,” he said.
And he said it was impacting the reopening of 14 beds at St Nicholas, because it was not safe to open without more nurses.
“The recruitment of additional nursing staff needs to be undertaken as a matter of urgency and the delays encountered throughout the system from interview to staff being in position on the floor needs to be expedited. It currently takes between three and six months to have nurses in the vacant positions from the date they are interviewed,” added Cllr Ó Cualáin.
Previously Galway West TD Catherine Connolly (Ind) complained that St Monica’s Ward at UHG had been closed for two months this year due to low levels of staffing.
At the HSE Forum meeting last December, Saolta said it would embark on its largest ever overseas recruitment campaign to fill vacant nursing posts.
During that meeting Saolta said it had 600 unfilled nursing and midwifery positions across its seven hospitals in the West and North West but it did not give a breakdown.
Connemara ambulance service ‘only on paper’
North Connemara has an ambulance service on paper only because its crew is based mostly in Mayo.
Galway County Councillor Daithí Ó Cualáin (FF) said a new ambulance service for Connemara was announced with ‘much fanfare’ by the HSE after a lengthy campaign by locals.
But he claimed that the North Connemara ambulance crew is based mostly in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, and not County Galway.
“They start their shift and end their shift in Clifden but they spend most of their time in Ballinrobe,” he fumed.
Cllr Ó Cualáin told the latest HSE West Regional Health Forum that this was not what the people of Connemara had campaigned for when they lobbied for ambulance cover.
He said that the ambulance crew based in An Cheathrú Rua was being “pulled into Galway”, which left the Conamara Gaeltacht exposed.
He added that with the rising cost of fuel, it was not an efficient use of ambulance resources.
Cllr Ó Cualáin, a nurse, welcomed confirmation from the HSE that it intends to lodge a planning application in July or August of this year to covert the old health centre in Recess into an ambulance base to serve North Connemara.
John Joe McGowan, Chief Ambulance Officer HSE West, said the preparation of planning documents for the project was “at an advanced stage”.
Mr McGowan said that the North Connemara crews of Emergency Ambulance and Rapid Response vehicle currently commence and end their shifts in Clifden.
He said that during their shift they are “dynamically deployed within the area”.
If An Cheathrú Rua and Clifden crews are out on jobs, then they provide cover. If both Clifden and An Cheathrú Rua are at their stations, “they cover in Ballinrobe deployment point until such time as they are required back in either Clifden or An Cheathrú Rua”.
Mr McGowan insisted this was a “temporary measure” until the building in Recess is ready.
Galway County Council’s €16m budget overspend
Galway County Council spent €16 million more than it budgeted for last year – with almost half of that down to waivers for rates.
In the last financial statement for 2021, it emerged that the local authority spent €152.6m for the year, against a budgeted expenditure of €136.6m.
The main areas where the budget ran over was €7.2m more given in waivers for rates, €3.6m for the Business Incentive Scheme and €5m more spent on roads.
Government initiatives to offset the impact of Covid helped rein in the overrun, allowing the Council to post a surplus of €20,315 for the 2021 books.
“All areas of council services came under pressure from increase service demands and unexpectedly higher input costs than had been anticipated,” head of finance of Galway County Council Ger Mullarkey stated.
“This led to overruns in certain areas but through expenditure control measures and recoupment of revenue incomes by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, it was possible to offset the negative impact.
“Particular difficulty was experienced in housing where the voids and energy retrofit programme resulted in an overspend.
“But payroll savings due to recruitment timing and recoupments from department for lost revenue more than compensated.”
Total expenditure was €884,000 greater than budgeted for in housing. Covid-19 had an adverse impact on parking income, resulting in income running at 50% of budget. Overall, there was an overrun of €308,000 in roads.
Chief Executive of Galway County Jim Cullen told councillors that the local authority would need an additional €20m to provide adequate services in the county. The budget for retrofitting of council houses would need at least another million to make significant progress.
To date Galway County Council has completed energy retrofits to 117 properties, with works in train on 14 properties with a further 30 at tender stage.
All properties that received the energy retrofits achieved a BER rating of A3 or higher.
At Gort Mhaoilir in Athenry 26 properties completed last week received a provisional BER rating of A. A further 34 properties will be tendered this year under the current retrofit programme.
Goss expenditure amounted to €80.7m, with housing and roads and transportation accounting for 90 per cent of total spend.
The councillors agreed to adopt the financial statement.