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Sláintecare dispute Row after it emerges three new hospitals will exclude thousands waiting years for surgery

New hospitals will only cater for patients scheduled for day procedures

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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Dublin

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Dublin

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins Dublin

Plans for three new hospitals to help tackle waiting lists will exclude thousands of patients who may have been in the queue for surgery for years.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly will bring a memo to the Cabinet today on the three proposed hospitals in Cork, Dublin and Galway.

The plans are the latest row to engulf Sláintecare as Mr Donnelly revealed its team want the new hospitals to cater only for patients on waiting lists who can have a day-case procedure.

This would exclude others who are in need of surgery for procedures such as hip replacements that require an overnight stay.

He said this plan was opposed by senior doctors, who want all waiting list patients to be treated in the proposed hospitals. Up to 900,000 public patients are on some form of waiting list.

“In excess of 60pc of cases can by done on a day-case basis. That would free up beds and theatres in other hospitals for more complex work,” Mr Donnelly said.

“It an ongoing debate,” he told Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall at the Oireachtas health committee yesterday.

According to the National Development Plan, these facilities will be sited adjacent to existing hospitals.

The news comes amid revelations that Department of Health secretary general Robert Watt knew for about a week that former Sláintecare director Laura Magahy was resigning, but did not tell the minister.

Asked why he did not inform the minister, Mr Watt said: “Laura told me she was moving on.” But he said she “wanted to tell the minister herself”.

Ms Magahy worked just a few offices away from the minister in the Department of Health, but Mr Donnelly said he was in the dark about her intention to resign.

There was disquiet among several members of the Oireachtas committee yesterday after it emerged Sláintecare will now be overseen by a board co-chaired by Mr Watt and HSE chief Paul Reid – both of whom preside over the organisations that are supposed to be reformed.

The Sláintecare office in the Department of Health will be disbanded and its work distributed among civil servants.

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A separate group will examine the breakdown of the HSE into six regional authorities, but it will not include any patient representative.

A task force on waiting lists will be set up.

Mr Donnelly said yesterday Ms Magahy and Sláintecare chairman Tom Keane, who also resigned, did not tell him in advance of their frustrations that triggered their exit.

In a worrying development, and despite the urgent needs of the health service, it emerged €350m of health funding this year is unspent.

Mr Donnelly was not aware of resistance to Sláintecare “from within” among his officials to overhauling the HSE, but conceded they would not say it to his face.

He admitted: “People resist loss or perceived loss. Of course there will be people threatened and scared by that.”

He said he was puzzled by Prof Keane’s letter citing “resistance to change”.

Deputy Shortall described the changes as a “hostile takeover” of Sláintecare and claimed there are attempts to “suffocate” it.

Mr Watt said the breakdown of the HSE would not start until 2023 and he denied there was internal resistance to the plan, saying this was a nonsense conspiracy theory.

But the watchdog implementation group – which has been highly critical of the pace of reform, prompting several resignations – will not be replaced.

He said he supported the break-up of the HSE.

The minister defended the decision to switch the operation of Sláintecare to a new board headed by Mr Watt and Mr Reid, saying it is important that people in the service “own” the changes.

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