SERVICES at a hospital at the centre of controversy over babies' deaths are being downgraded and will no longer carry out complex surgery.
Portlaoise Hospital was the subject of a damning report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) into care standards there.
The decision to transfer complex surgery from the hospital, and reduce the opening hours of the emergency department was announced by the HSE yesterday.
Local TD and Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan had raised concerns about the "dismantling" of services at the hospital in 2011 at a Joint Committee on Health and Children.
However, in a statement yesterday, he did not condemn the measures being introduced and appeared to give a guarded welcome to aspects of the decision.
"I welcome clarification that enhanced maternity services are to continue at Portlaoise Hospital," he said.
He also welcomed the ongoing engagement with staff by Dublin-Midland Hospital Group CEO, Dr Susan O'Reilly, in the aftermath of recent reports relating to the hospital.
"My absolute priority is patient safety for people with medical needs in Laois, and identifying how best this can be achieved.
"I believe it is essential that, as well as considering reports, Dr O'Reilly listens carefully to the views of patients and staff and is alert to the healthcare needs of people in the hospital's catchment area.
"I welcome the fact that a period of consultation is underway. I note the HSE director general stated some time ago that complex surgeries would be relocated to hospitals with higher volumes of such surgeries and that it is proposed that less complicated day-surgery volumes would increase in Portlaoise," Mr Flanagan said.
Dr James Reilly
Five babies have died in controversial circumstances after being delivered at the hospital in recent years.
The move to see complex surgery transferred to St James's Hospital or the Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore comes after last month's damning HIQA report into care standards at the hospital.
The opening hours of the hospital's emergency department will be reduced to 8am to 8pm.
The HSE said in a statement that complex surgery at the Portlaoise hospital will be transferred to St James's Hospital or Tullamore "as the volumes are too low to maintain the requisite expertise of clinical staff".
It said that, maternity services at the Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise will continue as usual.
It is expected that there will be approximately 2,000 births in its maternity unit this year.
Dr Susan O'Reilly said the planned and systematic transfer of complex surgery from the hospital to St James's and Tullamore Hospital will be a "further enhancement to the safety and quality of services at Portlaoise".
Meanwhile, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) is to seek immediate discussions, with the HSE, to discuss implications arising from the decision to relocate certain services.
The INMO said it believes that it is self-evident that additional bed capacity, combined with additional staff, must be in place in these receiving hospitals,before any services can be relocated, from Portlaoise, in a quality assured manner.
"All of us want to ensure the patient receives treatment in the optimum location designed to ensure the best possible outcome for any intervention or treatment," said INMO general secretary Liam Doran.