THE SAME day the Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, visited Sligo General Hospital on a flying visit last Friday morning fuller details emerged of the scale of 2012 budget cuts in the health service across this region.
Cuts totalling 104.8 million are confirmed in the Service Plan for HSE West area, which includes Connacht and Donegal, together with Limerick and Tipperary.
The Service Plan underlines the savage scale of spending cutbacks now under way nationally and show a sizeable reduction in Sligo General Hospital budget, -- 91.6 million for year ahead, as against 98 million euro in 2011.
The budget for Primary, Community and Continuing Care (PCCC) in Sligo/Leitrim is 129.6 million euro in year ahead, as against 155.4 million last year.
The section on cancer makes no commitment to restore mammography or other services in 2012. Rectal cancer surgery will move from Sligo to Galway during the year.
A Regional Epilepsy Centre will be established locally in the third quarter of 2012, while Sligo will become part of a national footcare programme in dealing with diabetes, commencing in summer.
Other key headlines on cutbacks emerging from the 77 page document include:-
*** The 2012 budget for hospitals has been cut by 61.5 million but the picture is much worse than that because there is a deficit carry-forward in the west of almost 20 million;
*** Home help in the region will be cut by 150,000 hours in 2012. This falls within the 16.5% PCCC cutbacks, above;
*** Disability services budget has been cut by 13.2 million;
*** Mental Health services in Sligo will see ten acute beds cut, while the service planners will also "review and rationalise" supervised residential facilities in Sligo. The Plan admits that Mental Health in the area is "under considerable pressure," as the service continues to grow;
*** Treatments and operations, eg bowel screenings and hip replacements will be cut by 9,000 in the region this year;
*** Beds will close in public nursing homes; the Service Plan proposes to withdraw 132 public nursing home beds in 2012 in HSE West, including 17 in St Johns Hospital;
It is also expected that two nursing homes, in north Donegal and Galway, will be closed as part of the Service Plan.
There will be less staff, too. By the end of this month 683 are expected to retire but....but the Service Plan provides for a further 169 to leave during the year in the battle to hold budget lines.Radiology Equipment Replacement
The rollout of colorectal screening services services is a 2012 priority under 'Hospital Services' provision - Sligo and three other centres are listed at number 10 on a list of 12 priorities.
Palliative care services, including hospices across the region from Donegal to Tipperary will be funded at 2011 level, the Service Plan confirms. This appears to ignore medical inflation which runs significantly higher than consumer inflation but the 2011 baseline will come as a relief given the 16.5% year-on-year cuts in the PCCC budget.
The appointment of a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Sligo General dealing with heart failure is itemised as "deliverable output" for the first quarter of 2012. Two other such appointments are planned across the HSE West region.
The first quarter of 2012 will see the ongoing replacement of radiology equipment at Sligo General Hospital completed and become fully operational. There are no budget implications for this work in the current year, the Service Plan reveals.
Mystery still surrounds details of the Health Minister's hush-hush trip to Sligo -- neither Press nor local political reps were invited. Reliable sources also indicate that the Minister re-scheduled some planned events in Galway after getting up there in traffic gridlock on Friday afternoon -- something experienced on a daily basis by Sligo users of cancer buses to Galway.
Service Plans are later than usual being published this year because the HSE's original national Service Plan was returned by the Minister to the HSE. It was later adopted, without changes, it is believed.