Representatives of SIPTU and all major political parties voiced their disapproval at the rally only a few minutes walk from Navan hospital. Local councillors including Damien O’Reilly of Fianna Fail also joined the march through Navan centre to express their support for the protest.
The rally was organised by the Save Navan Hospital Campaign because of fresh concerns that the current 24-hour A&E service will be replaced with a medical assessment unit.
The government was warned that if the closure of the A&E goes ahead, it would cost the local population and will lead to unnecessary deaths. A large proportion of those joining the protests know of someone close or were saved themselves by Navan hospital staff due to the A and E unit.
“This man over here, it actually saved his life, he was actually dead,” Gus, a resident of Dunderry said, pointing to a man in a makeshift ICU bed dragged along by a donkey.
“At a game, he got a heart attack. He was rushed to the back of the car, 500 metres to the hospital and it saved his life. If that hospital wasn’t there, that man that’s with us there wouldn’t be out here.”
Many other locals such as Christy McQuillan disregard “the notion of this hospital not being needed in the town of Navan and the wider outskirts of county Meath… it’s just beggars’ belief.”
“We have it, we must keep it, and it’s a community need that is absolutely warranted in today’s world,” Mcquillan continued.
Much criticism was directed at the HSE after Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín on Wednesday published a letter circulated by the HSE and Ireland East Hospital Group confirming Our Lady’s Hospital’s downgrade in early October.
The letter says the hospital will “not require an intensive care unit” and the emergency department would become a GP-referred medical assessment unit. It would instead operate a post-anaesthetic care unit related to orthopaedic surgery. Ireland East Hospital Group said in the letter that no date had been confirmed for the, but that the “transformation process has commenced”.
It proposed the Drogheda A and E unit should be used by residents of Meath instead. This comes just before the recent spike in Covid cases with only 12 intensive care beds currently available in the country.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has suspended plans for its removal and replacement and urged HSE representatives to engage with elected representatives on behalf of the community.
The change will occur on a later date unless the proposal is removed. The HSE has not made any comments regarding this recent protest as of yet.
“Over the last 20 months, the head honchos in the HSE were sitting at home, watching Netflix while the staff at the hospital were saving lives,” said Dr.Ruairí Hanley, spokesperson for Navan hospital at the rally. “Now that those beauties are back behind their desks after the pandemic, this is what is happening,” Hanley said.
HSE has decreased funding for rural hospitals such as Navan’s over several years which has led to a lowered standard in performance due to a lack of resources.
Eonan Hameed, a Navan local owning Yummy Creame’s, is one of many who have felt these budget cuts and how it has extended waiting times for family’s medical needs. “My wife now, she has fibrosis. Every time she rings the GP… you wait six hours, eight hours, ten hours. That’s ridiculous. If they do keep it open they should really work on it.
Four previous protests have taken place over an 11 year period since the first rally against Navan hospitals or its closure
“What we’ve seen over the last 10, 11 years it’s a repeated effort from the HSE in terms of their smaller hospital framework plan, but, as pointed out 11 years ago and with every rally since, there simply isn’t the capacity in other hospitals to accommodate that from Navan’s point of view, and in particular in that period of time we’ve seen a growth in the population,” Senator Shane Cassel said in his speech as representative of FIanna Fail during the rally.
Speaking to Meath South East News afterwards, Cassell further discussed how locals have been constantly working to keep their hospital as it is or improve it.
“I think that the people of Navan have already done a huge amount over the past 11 years in that campaign and standing up to those attempts to reconfigure and have been resolute… in their defiance of that and that has, over that period of time, that button wasn’t pressed. They (HSE) have been plowing on with their own bat without consultation and I think this is what this rally and this campaign has made sure that political action did happen.”
“It shows, beyond doubt, that the people of Meath know just how important it is to have urgent and emergency care services in our county,” said after Navan’s rally. “They came out in their thousands on Saturday, and in doing so they sent a crystal clear message to the Minister for Health, the HSE, the Government and to our Meath Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs.”
SIPTU have shown their support with representative John Regan commending all those that showed up for the rally in support of Our Lady’s Hospital. ““The numbers that are here today demonstrates the huge solidarity we have in Co Meath,” Regan said. “Are you watching and listening, Minister Donnelly, you and your friends in the HSE, the faceless people that make questionable decisions that affect the daily lives of families. Shame on you all.”
The HSE have not commented on the rally as of yet and changes to Navan’s hospital can still be altered.