'Hands off our hospital' is meeting's message

The mood was militant at a meeting in Wexford to discuss potential cuts to hospital services. Maria Pepper reports

IF THE HSE is thinking about cutting vital services at Wexford General Hospital, it's going to have a fight on its hands. With a 'reconfiguration' report on acute hospitals in the south-east due out at the end of April, a pre-emptive meeting was held in the Talbot Hotel on Monday night.

Over 500 people attended and the mood was militant. Even the mild-mannered mayor of wexford, Philomena Roche, declared that she was willing to take off her gloves.

'I will personally lead the march', she said. 'We will have a following that will bring Dublin to a halt. It will be better than any taxi or passport office strike'

Senator Liam Twomey of Fine Gael called the HSE a 'faceless bureaucracy' and warned: 'if this report is to the detriment of the people of Wexford, they will see us in Dublin.'

Cllr. Paddy Nolan of Fianna Fáil accused the HSE of planning to run 'a shuttle service to Waterford to commit murder'.

There were calls for a French-style blockade of Dublin streets and a storming of the Dáil to hammer the message home – the message being 'hands off Wexford General Hospital'.

At the meeting, members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party rubbed shoulders with councillors, Wexford Oireachtas members, union representatives, hospital staff and ordinary Wexford people for whom the hospital is a nonnegotiable issue. Dr Colm Quigley, who has the apparently conflicting role of being clinical director of Wexford General Hospital and clinical project leader of the reconfiguration review group, was quick to declare

his allegiance.

'We are here tonight not to speak on behalf of the HSE. We are here as supporters of Wexford General Hospital,' he said.

Dr Quigley and the hospital's director of nursing Bernard Finnegan both addressed the audience, outlining the excellent performance of Wexford General in a time of ferocious staffing and financial pressures.

Dr Quigley drew the loudest applause of the evening when he pledged his commitment to ensuring that, while certain services were being centralised in Waterford, others would come to Wexford.

'If it's good enough for Wexford people to go to Waterford for certain aspects of their care, it should be good enough for Waterford people to come to Wexford,' he said.

Labour TD Brendan Howlin, who organised the meeting, said that ultimately it was the people of Wexford who would determine what happened to the hospital because 'these are political matters' and people had the final say over who represented them in Government.

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