Updated: 11/07/12 : 05:40:56
IN FIVE to ten years there could be ''a whole new landscape'' in the working relationships between hospitals North and South - including Sligo and Enniskillen.
That was the prediction made in Dail Eireann last week by Donegal TD Joe McHugh.
Altnagelvin Area Hospital could work with Letterkenny General Hospital and Erne Hospital could work with Sligo Regional Hospital, the Deputy felt.
Said Deputy McHugh "We need to ensure at the beginning that the turf wars that have prevailed in hospitals -- and that will continue to prevail in future -- do not become the raison d’être
of service provision. Strength Of One
The danger, he added, with cross-Border co-operation and all the associated challenges is not to acknowledge the strength of one particular hospital. Altnagelvin Area Hospital has its strengths and Letterkenny General Hospital has its strengths.
"There is a real opportunity here to build a critical service that will facilitate not only the population of Donegal or north Leitrim but also patients from Derry to Tyrone," he said.
"When we discuss cross-Border synergies and co-operation," said Deputy McHugh, "it is important to place a value on the existing strengths and capacities at particular hospitals." He used the example of cardiology in Letterkenny.Should Be Careful
He added that "we should be careful about how we move in the advanced co-operation between two hospitals on different sides of the Border.
"Everyone," said Deputy McHugh, "has the same overall objective, that is, to provide quality service for the people living in the North West."
Minister Roisin Shortall -- standing in for Health Minister Dr James Reilly - dealt with the topic of reorganisation of the hospital system and establishment of hospitals into groups.
"One of the issues," said Minister Shortall, "which will be taken into consideration in the formation of hospital groups is the availability of services in Northern Ireland and any opportunities that exist for synergies. Decisions such as this will not be taken on a stand-alone basis.
"The creation of hospital groups and trusts is at the heart of the Government’s reforms of the acute hospital sector," said Minister Shortall: " It is integral to a stronger and more systematic process of performance management for hospitals while ensuring clinically safe and consistent services for patients. Management Frameworks
The Minister for Health recently named Professor John R. Higgins to work with the Special Delivery Unit and chair a strategic board to assist the Department of Health in the ''design and establishment'' of hospital groups.
"As chairperson, he will have a key role in progressing the creation of hospital groups which, the Minister envisages, will be set up quickly on an administrative basis," said Minister Shortall, adding: "Initial meetings with stakeholders, including meetings between Professor Higgins and each public hospital, have commenced and will continue during the summer."
Following this process, hospitals will be allocated to groups on an administrative basis, the Minister confirmed. Work will commence on governance and management frameworks for hospital groups will be aligned to the recent recommendations of the HIQA Tallaght report.
It is not anticipated that independent hospital trusts will be established until 2015, because much development is required in other areas, including universal health insurance and the underpinning legislation to create, said Minister Shortall "a comprehensive and robust system of efficient health care and safe patient care.''Lot At Stake
In a follow-up comment, Deputy McHugh asked all those involved to look at the broader picture.
He said: "I call on all stakeholders within hospitals - there is a lot at stake and that is why we use the term “stakeholders” - to examine the broader picture. There will be turf wars, suspicion, fear and misunderstandings, but there are opportunities.
There is an opportunity to provide a high-quality service in the north west, said Deputy McHugh: "Bearing in mind that Galway, Dublin and the southern region are facilitated, the response this afternoon implies the North West will be represented in some shape or form.