Wicklow Regional Hospital closure imminent

The Health Service Executive has confirmed that it is to close the residential section of Wicklow District Hospital. Local councillors were notified of the imminent closure at a meeting today. By Christina Finn

HSE spokeswoman, Marian Meaney said the decision to close the unit had been prompted by infrastructural issues that had arisen in the recent Health Information and Equality Authority (HIQA) report. In particular, fire safety was identified as an issue too serious to ignore, Ms Meaney said.

Today's decision runs counter to a statement issued yesterday by HSE Dublin Mid-Leinster. This statement said that decisions regarding the hospital would be taken after an engineering assessment was completed. "There are increasing concerns in relation to the physical infrastructure," the statement read. "The HSE Estates have begun an engineering assessment which will be complete within one month. Appropriate decisions will be taken in the best interest of the residents on receipt of this report."

The HSE today said that it is basing the decision to close on the HIQA report, not on the engineering report. Fine Gael Wicklow councillor Irene Winters described today's meeting as a "sham".

It was put to the HSE that the hospital closure was due to the financial constraints of the HSE and that the HSE is "hiding behind" the HIQA report. Local representatives said that the infrastructure of the building was not the issue, rather it made more financial sense for the HSE to consolidate all staff in Rathdrum due to a staff embargo and declining resources.

HSE representative Marian Meaney denied that the decision was "in any way" connected to cutbacks or a reconfiguration of services in the region.

Ms Meaney said the HSE had the HIQA report 10 days ago. The HSE amended the report to make it factually correct, she said. The report would eventually be made available on the HIQA website.

Councillors today raised concerns for the welfare of elderly patients in the Wicklow area. The elderly patient facility, Orchard Nursing Home, was closed in the Bray area in 2009. Councillors today asked if there was truth to anecdotal evidence that patients who are moved have a higher mortality rate than would be normally expected. They asked for details of the HSE's experience in relocating patients of the Orchard in Bray.

Labour TD Liz McManus said that patients moved from the Orchard in Bray had stayed in the locality - other facilities in Bray had the capacity to absorb additional patients. This is not an option in Wicklow town. The nearest facilities are Rathdrum which is 15 miles away and First care, Blainroe which is 6 miles outside the town. Neither facility is served by public transport.

Ms Meaney said she didn't have statistics on the move from the Orchard Nursing Home. She said that nine of the patients who had been in the Orchard passed away in the last 18 months, which is within normal expected rates. However, she did not know the dates of the time of deaths or if most deaths were within the first three months following the relocation. She undertook to prepare a report on the mortality rates of the patients moved from the Orchard and have it ready on 21 October 2010.

More than 3,000 people gathered last weekend to demonstrate against the feared closure of the hospital vowing to help the unit survive.