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Galway hospitals run up €11m debt



The two Galway public hospitals were €11m over budget by the end of July, accounting for the largest deficit run up by any hospital in the region.

In an article published in the Saolta hospital group newsletter, acting group chief financial officer Tony Baynes revealed that the hospitals as a whole were nearly €29m in the red, which is €5m worse than the same time last year.

University Hospital Galway (UHG) and Merlin Park Hospital had spent €168.5m until the end of July when they only had earmarked €157m.

Pay costs were the biggest factor in the overspend, with wages accounting for nearly €16m of an overrun.

Agency costs for medical and support services staff increased significantly on 2014. Support services workers – mainly hired to look after patients who required one-on-one care – had jumped by €1.5m in a year.

Cllr Mary Hoade told this week’s Regional Health Forum West meeting that the HSE had stated nationally that 82% of its agency staff budget had been used by the end of May.

Chief officer for Galway Mayo Roscommon community services within the Saolta Hospital Group said they operated a staff budget rather than an agency budget.

The two Galway hospitals had hired 80 staff nurses since the beginning of the year and another 27 had been interviewed in the last month. A further 17 staff nurses were returning from the UK to take up posts in December, he stated.

Mr Baynes revealed that other costs such as drugs, medical supplies and

private ambulances had shot up by €14m over the seven months.

Patient debt was another cause of concern for the group’s finances, with patients across the seven hospitals racking up debts of €77m – up €8.5m since the end of last year.

The only positive element in the books was the €2m hike in group income, he outlined.

However a further €35m in income was stalled due to consultants failing to sign off on claims – a long-running problem for the HSE which was raised at the meeting by the Forum chairman, Cllr Tom McNamara from Clare.

All hospitals in the group – the two in Galway, Letterkenny, Sligo, Mayo, Portiuncla and Roscommon – had experienced a jump in private ambulance use. Some 2,239 trips were paid for in the first five months of this year, an increase of 34%.

Mr Baynes said this was due to a decrease of eleven available ambulances.

In answer to a question by Tuam area Councillor Donagh Killilea (FF), the HSE revealed that 11 ambulance staff had left the service before the age of retirement over four years.

The ambulance base in Tuam had eight staff on duty, which allowed for round-the-clock cover but without relief staff. These were drawn from other crews across the west of Ireland. Approval had been given for a further four staff, which would be recruited over the next 18 months.

Connacht Tribune

Safety fears abound over Aran Island’s top attraction



There appears to be no resolution in sight to address serious safety concerns at Inis Mór’s leading tourist attraction.

Galway West Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív told the Connacht Tribune that an issue related to parking for various modes of transport continued to frustrate residents and visitors to Inis Mór – and a solution must be found.

“This issue seems to be going on forever,” said Deputy Ó Cuív of the issues at Dún Aonghasa.

“There is a real danger given the large number of people that visit the area and what’s required is improved parking spaces for buses, horse carriages and bicycles at the entrance to the Dún Aonghasa site.

“It also needs to be taken into account that we need to separate horses from buses, and to separate those from cyclists and pedestrians,” said the Fianna Fáil TD.

The lack of sufficient parking was creating gridlock and posing a risk to people travelling the route, continued Deputy Ó Cuív who has called on the Minster of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW) to bring the interested parties together to hammer out a solution.

“I am calling on the Minister to convene a roundtable meeting between the island representatives, the OPW and the County Council together with the Department of Rural and Community Development to see how the matter might be addressed.

“I welcome that the present Minister visited the site last year and is aware of the issues, because everyone is very anxious that we get this sorted,” he said.

In a parliamentary question, Deputy Ó Cuív sought an assurance from the Minister of State, Patrick O’Donovan, that he would “organise a roundtable of people with the local authority and the local state-funded development organisation” to address safety concerns on the island.

Responding, Minister O’Donovan said the OPW was progressing a refurbishment of the visitor centre at Dún Aonghasa, while discussions were ongoing relating to traffic management outside the centre.

“I can assure the Deputy that the Office of Public Works will continue such engagement with local stakeholders, including the local authority, and to this end, a meeting will be convened in the coming months as previously agreed,” he said.

Deputy Ó Cuív said it was unfortunate that despite repeated calls for action, the Minister’s response suggested little progress had been made.

“There is a danger here to locals and tourists alike. It is a bad advertisement for the island the way it is at the moment, particularly as this is at one of the premier tourist sites in the country,” he said.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway Gardaí on high alert for Presidential visit



Gardaí in Galway are on high alert for a visit to the West from the US President next month.

And while there has been no confirmation of dates yet, garda planning for a mid-April arrival is in full swing.

Cases at Derrynea District Court’s April sitting are being kept to a minimum as it is expected that gardaí will be otherwise detained, a sitting of the court heard this week.

Sergeant Damien Prendergast told Judge Mary Fahy that cases were being put out to May as it was anticipated there would be a “potential visit” from Joe Biden.

“I have been instructed to keep April free as there is a possible presidential visit,” said Sgt Prendergast.

The Connacht Tribune has learned that Galway gardaí are preparing for the visit to take place the week after Easter, with Derrynea Court due to sit on April 18.

The President’s itinerary is being kept under wraps, but a visit to his ancestral home in Co Mayo is highly likely – and the high degree of security required for such a visit is well underway.

It is understood that while there has been no indication that Galway will be on Mr Biden’s schedule, the county’s gardaí would likely be required to bolster security in the neighbouring county.

Judge Fahy, meanwhile, expressed concern about putting court cases back as a result.

“We’re then landed with a huge, big, long list then,” she said.

The US President’s visit was confirmed earlier this month. Mr Biden is expected to spend five days in the country, travelling north during the visit to mark 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

A Galway Garda spokesperson told the Tribune they were not in a position to confirm any details of their role at this point, nor could they indicate if the visit would take in any part of Galway.

“It’s very much an internal matter for the moment,” they said.

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Connacht Tribune

Lidl appeals planning refusal for Claregalway supermarket



A discount supermarket has revealed it will fork out more than €1 million in wages annually if it gets planning permission to provide a new store in Claregalway.

According to Lidl, the decision by Galway County Council to refuse planning earlier this year on a site in the village centre – opposite the Summerfield – was based on “inaccurate assumptions and conclusions”.

The company has now appealed this decision to An Bord Pleanála and a decision on the matter is due at the end of July.

The development of the discount supermarket in Claregalway was rejected by Council planners on the basis that it would make an already chronic traffic situation in the village even worse.

There were more than 20 submissions to the plan by Lidl to establish a discount supermarket and the vast majority of these were in opposition to the proposed development.

Claregalway is one of the most traffic-choked villages in the country and local residents did not want another retail development that would add to the problems.

Tailbacks are a daily occurrence each morning and evening in particular and it was felt by local residents that the development of another supermarket would result in daytime congestion as well.

Planning permission was sought by Lidl for a discount supermarket and ancillary off-licence. It would be a part single and part two storey development in the village centre.

It would have involved the provision of a new access off the Galway road along with the modification of the existing footpaths to create a right turning lane to access the supermarket.

Galway County Council rejected the plan and apart from traffic issues, they cited historical flooding problems on the site and surrounding lands as also a reason for the refusal.

The planners also took issue with the absence of proposals relating to surface water measures on the site. They were not satisfied that the site is not at risk of flooding in the future.

According to Lidl, the store would create around 25 new jobs, generating €1.025 million per annum in wages while €1.5 million would be spent on the construction stage of the discount store.

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