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A&E Unit – the words that time forgot!

Featured Protesters marching outside Roscomon Hospital in 2011. Protesters marching outside Roscomon Hospital in 2011.

Now it’s official, folks. In reality, we’ve known it for a long time.  If you say something often enough, it tends to become accepted wisdom. 

  And, in recent years, we’ve been conditioned, step by step, bit by bit, to accept that Roscommon A&E is unlikely to ever re-open.

  It’s been apparent for some time that the fight for restoration of the A&E Unit – as we knew it – is over.

  What’s interesting now, as we enter a General Election campaign, is that the traditional/principal election ‘players’ aren’t even pretending otherwise.

  None of the traditional political ‘old guard’ are making restoration of Roscommon A&E a red-line issue (to use that popular new term) in Election 2016.

  Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour all entered the 2011 General Election assuring the public of their absolute commitment to the retention of emergency services at Roscommon County Hospital.

  Denis Naughten and Frank Feighan received what seemed like dream backing from then Health spokesperson James Reilly and party leader Enda Kenny.

  Fianna Fail went into that election with the same stance, and would have been deeply hurt at any suggestion that they would ever threaten the future of emergency services at Roscommon Hospital (“didn’t we put the A&E in?” would have been their opening retort).

  Labour also assured us that A&E would be completely safe on their watch.

  As we know, Fine Gael and Labour subsequently shut it down.

  None of those parties are making any pledges now about restoration of Roscommon A&E. Their candidates in Roscommon/Galway – Eugene Murphy, Maura Hopkins and John Kelly – can say all they like about the health service here, but they can’t deliver on A&E.

  Now, Independent TD Denis Naughten has also made it clear that re-opening of Roscommon A&E won’t be a red-line issue for him going forward.

  Naughten has confirmed what has been obvious to close observers in recent years…that he is no longer insisting on the presence of a functioning A&E Unit in Roscommon Hospital as a price for his support for a Fine Gael-led Government.  

  For Naughten, this is tricky territory. Deputy Naughten parted company with Fine Gael because they were closing Roscommon A&E; now he is not insisting on its re-opening in return for his support (should such an alliance arise) for a new FG-led government. (Or a government led by any other party). He will hope that most people will see his approach as the pragmatic one. For anyone who won’t be impressed by Naughten’s softened position, he will hope that getting his stance out good and early will take the sting out of any outcry.

  What the candidates in question will all tell us is that they are just being pragmatic. They will say they are merely reflecting the reality on the ground. It is much harder, our ‘A&E not a red-line issue’ politicians will argue, to restore something that is gone, than it is to maintain something that is still there. In particular, they will point out that staffing a restored Roscommon A&E would be a momentous challenge.

  All fine, to a point. After all, in recent years most of us have started to reluctantly accept that there is hardly any prospect of Roscommon A&E – as we knew it – ever re-opening.

  But it is very convenient for our principal local politicians to now concentrate on the vague area of ‘enhanced emergency services’ instead of reminding whatever parties will form the next Government of the across-the-political-divide commitment to Roscommon A&E that existed pre-2011.

  The expression ‘letting them off the hook’ springs to mind.

  This brings us to the HAC (Hospital Action Committee), which could also be accused this week of letting candidates in Roscommon/Galway off the hook. The HAC is not insisting on re-opening of Roscommon A&E as, yep, a ‘red-line issue.”

  A lot has changed in five years, hasn’t it?

  Also interesting in this saga is the position of consultants at the County Hospital. Consultants who were very vocal in support of A&E when the HAC were organising mass rallies five or six years ago, have since gone very quiet. Why is this? If they felt that A&E was viable back in 2009-2011, why did they take a vow of silence in the years since? Sure, everyone is fatigued from the saga, but if it was wrong to close down A&E in 2011… 

  Consultant Mr. Liam McMullen did go public lately, with an intriguing letter to the Roscommon People, in the course of which he asked voters not to be fooled by election candidates promising to restore A&E. As it happens, he need not have worried!

   For the record, I note that Sinn Fein (who are running Claire Kerrane here) are stating that, on entering Government, they will re-open Roscommon A&E. We will see.

  So, there you have it. Denis Naughten, who undoubtedly paid a heavy career price when he refused to vote with Fine Gael on the A&E closure, talks of insisting on a greatly improved emergency service in return for his support for the next Government.

            Michael Fitzmaurice is saying something similar. People will have an opportunity to scrutinise what they and all other candidates are saying. In time, we will see the shape of the enhanced services which we would all welcome.

  Meanwhile, after all the noise and all the years, it’s ending with a whimper. The public, by and large, lost their appetite for the battle over recent years. Our leading political players have moved on too, and they have largely dropped A&E from their vocabulary.

  In the 2011 General Election, it was the most explosive topic we’d ever encountered. In the 2016 General Election, it’s the controversy that daren’t be mentioned.

  Roscommon A&E? The words that time forgot.

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