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Leinster Leader November 27th 2008
Maternity care featured in debate on future of Kildare hospitals
The policy and practice of health services in Ireland is never far from the news. It is certainly guaranteed to make headlines when there is discussion about the closing or transfer of hospital services with communities being highly sensitive about any changes in their access to hospital services in their locality. There were a number of such hospital issues which converged in a debate from Kildare County Council reported in a November 1958 issue of the Leinster Leader.
The debate centred around the future of St. Mary’s Hospital in Naas which had been built in the late 1930s as a fever hospital. Kildare County Council wanted to transform the building into county offices – its previous headquarters at Naas courthouse having been damaged by fire. However the Minister for Health was playing hardball and was insisting on two conditions before Kildare County Council took possession of St. Mary’s. Firstly the Council would have to refund £25,950 to the Hospitals Trust Fund which had made a grant towards the provision of the building for hospital purposes only. It was the second condition which was to prove a sticking point with councillors and that was the Minister’s insistence that the County Council provide a fifteen bed maternity unit in Naas. This did not go down well with some councillors who wanted the maternity unit to be established in Athy. The Minister had written to the council setting out his case for the unit to be in Naas. There was an acute shortage of accommodation in the Dublin maternity hospitals and the shortage was accentuated by the demand for admission of patients from Kildare and other adjacent counties.
The Minister felt that if an efficient maternity unit providing ante-natal and post-natal facilities was provided in Naas expectant mothers would readily avail of the services there rather than in the Dublin maternity hospitals. Regarding the councillors’ demand for the maternity accommodation to be made available in Athy, the Minister said that the proposed new County Hospital in Carlow would be able to accommodate women residing in South Kildare.
 This did not go down well with the councillors, the council chairman Mr. Michael Cunningham responded: ‘ The maternity ward of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Athy is proving very useful to South Kildare although it is cramped and nearly out of date. Naas would be out of the way entirely for that part of the county.’
Cllr. T. Carbery said he resented the suggestion to transfer patients from South Kildare to Carlow. He felt it would be unfair to compel people from that area to go to Carlow. He favoured building a maternity unit in Athy.
As always, costs came into the equation with the Chairman. Cllr. Cunningham remarking: ‘ We can get our patients kept in a top-class Dublin maternity hospital for twenty-four shillings a day, whereas if we had this unit in Naas it would cost far more to keep them there.’ Cllr. Terry Boylan remarked that on this reckoning he could not see the use of a maternity hospital in Naas at all.
Cllr. Michael McWey was prophetic when he enquired if there was any truth in rumours that the County Hospital was to be transferred from Kildare Town to Naas.
However Chairman Cunningham declared that the people of Kildare Town could be assured that if there was any move made to transfer the hospital it would first come before the Council. He added: ‘ I do not think there is any move whatever being made in that direction. With regard to a maternity hospital in Naas, no matter what unit we had here all the serious cases would still have to go to Dublin for we could not afford to keep an expensive gynaecologist here for them.’
Cllr. Michael St. Leger summed up the position by saying it would be desirable to have a maternity hospital at Naas and another at Athy but since that was not possible the maternity hospital should be provided in Athy and the County Council should keep its proposal to convert the St. Mary’s Hospital at Naas into county offices.
In time-honoured council tradition the councillors decided to appoint a delegation to go the Minister to argue the case for the maternity unit in Athy. It was also decided to ask the three Dail deputies for the county to accompany the delegation.

Liam Kenny finds that there is 'Nothing new Under the Sun' when he examines the Leinster Leader of November 1958 and discovers that the issue under debate in Kildare County Council was the future of St. Mary's Hospital in Naas.

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