PRISON OFFICERS SAY they will have to travel “several hours” with inmates if the downgrading of the emergency department at Portlaoise Hospital goes ahead.
Last week, the Health Service Executive (HSE) announced the department’s opening hours would be reduced to 8am to 8pm.
The move to downgrade certain services at the hospital comes after a scathing HIQA report into care standards at the hospital following a number of infant deaths over the last few years.
Vital service for prisons
The Prison Officers Association said the emergency department at Portlaoise is a vital for the two local prisons as it is a readily accessible service for over 1,000 prisoners and several hundred prison officers based locally.
Jim Mitchell, Deputy General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association said “over the years a carefully constructed streamlining of access has been developed by both prisons and the hospital – it will take years to develop such a system at any other hospital”.
He said many prisoners require medical attention and must also be accompanied by several layers of security.
Additional risks with travelling
“If the A&E is moved from the local area, staffing and transport costs will inevitably increase, as a hospital visit which can now be completed in an hour will take several hours and will create additional risks,” he said.
In recent times, a number of prisoners have escaped from custody while on hospital visits.
Mitchell said that assaults on prison officers “are now a daily occurrence and having an A&E facility nearby is a vital support for prison officers who are constantly under threat of injury”.
The association said it would be in contact with local politicians to stress the seriousness of the situation. A series of public meetings have already been organised for this week and next week to object to the downgrade of the hospital.
The HSE made no further comment on the downgrading of the emergency department at the hospital.