Standing in the cold and rain at yet another hospitals protest in Ennis, it seemed a long time since Mary Harney set about cutting health services and ‘reconfiguring’ hospitals across the state. It all started for Ennis General Hospital nack in 1988 when it was downgraded by the Mid Western Health Board and bed numbers reduced. Since then some of the harshest cuts have included closure of emergency services.

This has united the people of Clare behind their hospital, sadly some of the staunchest advocates are no longer here. In his speech Deputy Joe Carey paid tribute to Peadar McNamara, Paddy Barrett, Paddy Naughton and others who fought the good fight but have passed on. In their own way, they had warned that lives would be put at risk if the HSE proceeded to run down services in Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s. Their worst fears have been realised with record numbers of patients being treated on trolleys while hard working staff at University Hospital Limerick struggle to cope with massive overcrowding.

Protest to restore services at Ennis Hospital at O’Connell Square Ennis on January 8, 2017. 

On a wet Sunday in early January some 200 brave souls gathered at the O’Connell Monument to continue the fight. Noting that more than 600 patients were treated on trolleys in the previous week, Deputy Carey called for a long-term solution to the difficulties people in this region now face on an annual basis. He believes that any solution must give greater roles to Ennis, St John’s and Nenagh, easing the burden placed on UHL. This must include more services and extended opening hours in Ennis. Carey wants Limerick’s new emergency department to be adequately staffed and open on time in May 2017. “I will work with my colleagues and with your committee to ensure that happens,” he promised.

Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley acknowledged the deep frustration that exists with so many patients on trolleys for extended periods of time. However he did not forsee any short-term solution though certain measures should be taken, such as giving GPs a greater diagnostic role and providing more funding for elderly patients to access private nursing home care. Deputy Dooley said he was deeply disappointed when Minister Shane Ross suggested that the solution is to “give a kick in the ass” to hospital staff. In the long-term, he believes more hospital beds are needed across the region as a result of demographic changes. He insisted that some of those beds can be provided in Ennis and said that out of the 96 new beds proposed for the region, at least 25 of them could be provided at Ennis General Hospital.

Independent councillor Ann Norton pulled no punches when she said, “There are people dying on trolleys due to the lack of services.” Cllr Norton spoke of regularly attending hospitals with her daughter Nicole. Last year,when accompanied by another daughter who is 16, they both witnessed an elderly lady dying on a trolley close to them. Cllr Norton called on the people of Clare to show support for those nurses and doctors who work extremely hard in very difficult circumstances. “The pressure they are being put under is completely and utterly unfair,” she said. Cllr Norton said when Nicole is told she has to go to the hospital, she starts crying, she is scared and does not want to go through A&E in Limerick. “She is not alone, there are a lot of people who do not want to go to Limerick A&E because they are scared of what is going to happen.”

Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy bemoaned the loss of essential services from Ennis hospital and called on the TDs present to do all they can to acquire the resources needed to tackle the overcrowding problem in Limerick. The Fianna Fáil councillor has called for Ennis upgraded to a Model 3 hospital as there is presently no other Model 3 facility in the Midwest. i.e. a smaller hospital with a 24-hour emergency department, acute medicine and critical care facilities. In the longer term she wants the abolition of “the monstrous entity we created in the HSE” which she also described as “a bureaucratic monster”.

Former town councillor Mickey Guilfoyle has been with this campaign for a long time and remains critical of the main political parties for their failure to tackle the systemic deficiencies in the health service.