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Friends of Letterkenny General Hospital celebrate 21 years

Friends of Letterkenny General Hospital's first meeting, 1992.

Friends of Letterkenny General Hospital’s first meeting, 1992.

THE Friends of Letterkenny General Hospital celebrate their 21 years in existence this year. A function will be held in the Mount Errigal Hotel in Letterkenny on Friday, November 15 to mark the event.

The Friends was set up in 1992 by like-minded people from both within LGH and the local community with two core objectives, namely to raise funds to facilitate and promote new service developments in the hospital and secondly to promote volunteerism where members of the community could contribute to the hospital by voluntary work.

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Local business man Noel O’Connell was elected as Chairman of the original committee with Eileen Egan (nee Ryan) as Secretary. A cross section of services across the hospital benefitted over time from the endeavours of the Friends. This is illustrated below by detailing the range of new services that were initiated.

1981 saw the appointment of a new Hospital Administrator, Mr Pat Harvey and it also coincided with the opening of the new five-story block to the front of the hospital which brought considerable improvements to surgical, paediatric, orthopaedic, theatre, ICU and day surgery services. Coupled with this was the new demand for more and improved diagnostics. Plain film x-ray and ultrasound were no longer adequate as basic diagnostic imaging tools, CT scanning was the most prominent new development in this area and was viewed as a major breakthrough in cancer and head-trauma diagnostics. Dr Conaill MacAbhaird, recently appointed consultant Radiologist was one on the main drivers in pursuing this new service for LGH. With the support of Mr Pat Harvey, a major fundraising drive was commenced in 1993 to raise £400,000 to purchase the scanner. The fact that over £500,000 was raised almost 15 months ahead of schedule is testament to the hard work of the committee in those early days and set the corner stone for all future fund-raising.

Around that time, Ms Mary Callaghan, Assistant Director of Nursing led out on the Friends sponsored volunteer initiative where members of the public gave up their free time to do voluntary work in the hospital. Their duties included visiting patients who had few or no visitors of their own, running errands for patients, helping patients and visitors to find their destination around the hospital and the forgotten skill of writing letters.

In the early 90s, Mr Kevin Moran was appointed as a general surgeon with a special interest in urology. Traditionally, patients suffering from kidney stones either had to have open surgery or to travel to Dublin for a non-invasive procedure to remove the stone. On Mr Moran’s prompting, the Friends raised over £80,000 in 1996 to purchase Lithotripsy Equipment which enabled Mr Moran to treat people locally, negating the need for open surgery and eliminating the need for travel to Dublin.
Also in 1996, the Friends funded to the value of £20,000 the purchase of new pressure-relieving mattresses for seriously ill patients, hoists for surgical wards to alleviate the risk of back injuries to nursing staff and special furniture for the Gynaecology ward.

1997 saw the appointment of a new General Manager to the hospital, Mr Chris Lyons and he continued the collaborative work with the Friends. It also saw the appointment of a new chairman of the Friends Mr Casimir McGill. In 1998 two consultant physicians, Dr Bannan & Dr Callaghan were keen to develop cardiac rehabilitation services for patients who had recovered from the acute phase of cardio-vascular disease. The principal behind the service was that, while the patient had recovered, they needed to learn how to re-shape their lifestyles to prevent re-occurrence of the disease and to lead a healthy and productive life. With the support of the General Manager, Mr Chris Lyons over £80,000 was donated by the Friends to LGH to facilitate the purchase of the equipment, ultimately leading to a Cardiac Rehabilitation Unit being opened under the nursing leadership of Ms Orla Noonan. Patients were now able to avail of this service locally whereas previously, If they got the service at all, they had to travel to Sligo or Dublin to get it.
The Paediatric department benefitted to the tune of £30,000 when the Friends donated the funds to purchase a Transport Incubator for the Neo-Natal unit to enable the transfer of seriously ill new born babies to tertiary centres in Dublin. Consultant Paediatricians Dr Ryan & Dr Maguire were delighted with the enhancement of their service resulting in a much improved and safer services for sick and premature babies.

In 2001, the Friends donated £40,000 to the Maternity Unit to enable the purchase of an Ultrasound Scanner for the Maternity Unit. This piece of diagnostic equipment enabled the more sophisticated diagnosing and screening of pregnancy related conditions in expectant mothers.

Later that year, the Friends purchased and donated a specially adapted bus to LGH to the value of £120,000. This bus facilitated the transport of patients from the hospital to St. Luke’s and St. Jame’s Hospital in Dublin, the national treatment centres for patients suffering from cancer. It became known as the Oncology Bus and developed a positive reputation nationally for transporting ill patients in peace and comfort. In 2005, the Friends upgraded the bus with a more modern version that had a fitted toilet, TV and reclining leather seats to the value of €180,000 .
Pic of new oncology bus.

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In 2003, the Friends pulled off one of its greatest achievements with its role in getting approval from central government to build a new Acute Mental Health Unit on campus. The Friends committed to donating seed capital of €750,000 to kick-start the project and to provide additional patient comforts, if the remaining funding was committed from the central exchequer. Mr Noel O Connell, along with HSE Executives met with the then Junior Minister of Health, Mr John Moloney and was successful in making their case. This culminated in the opening of a new modern 34-bed acute unit on campus which was formally opened by Ms Kathleen Lynch, Junior Minister of Health in September 2011.

Opening Acute Mental Health Unit

Opening Acute Mental Health Unit

The Mental Health Services also benefited in 2004 when the Friends purchased a People-Carrier Mini Bus for Mental Health services on campus to the value of €46,000.
In 2004 the service for patients recovering from strokes in the Medical Rehabilitation Unit was enhanced when funding to the value of €31,000 was donated by the Friends to develop a Sensory Garden. This area offered a place for therapeutic activities within patient rehabilitation programmes. It has met the needs of a wide range of people including patients, relatives, staff and has also aided the promotion of positive health during recovery.

New consultant appointments to the hospital led to new developments and this was illustrated in2006 when the hospital purchased a MRI Scanner for the radiology department. A recent appointment to LGH at the time, Dr Donal O Driscoll, Consultant Radiologist had a special interest and experience in MRI scanning and was at the forefront in promoting this as a valuable service for the patients in LGH. With the support of hospital management, The Friends had originally agreed in principle to fund its purchase but the HSE was ultimately in a position to fund the purchase itself. The positive role of the Friends related to the fact that, with its help, LGH was able to put the MRI scanner forward as a priority requirement for the hospital.

In 2007, Riverdance came to Letterkenny and the show director Ms Moya Doherty and tour organiser Mr Pat Nora Gallagher were keen to make a contribution to hospital services, especially a cancer related one. The outcome was that €130,000 was donated to the Friends to enable them to purchase a Dexa Scanner for the radiology department. This scanner measures the bone density of patients undergoing chemotherapy, renal dialysis and patients with suspect osteoporosis. Mr Sean Murphy was appointed General Manager the previous year and he gratefully accepted the scanner from Ms Doherty & Mr Gallagher.

Dexa-Scanner

Between 2007 and 2010, the Friends donated funding to the value of €160,000 to purchase a range of equipment such as an Intra-Aortic Balloon pump for the Coronary Care Unit, and ultrasound machines for Theatre, ICU, and Radiology.
A new 64-slice CT scanner along with the MRI scanner placed a greater demand for computer memory storage capacity and in 2010 the Friends purchased a Storage Area Network (SAN) for the Radiology Department to the value of €400,000.

In 2006, the hospital appointed a new consultant cardiologist, Dr Santhosh David and again the appointment of a new consultant led to the push for new service developments. For the first time, LGH now had the skills internally to perform interventional cardiac procedures, up to now only available in Galway & Dublin. With the support of hospital management, The Friends endeavoured to fund raise €750,000 towards the purchase of a Cardiac Catheterisation Laboratory which will enable the Consultant Cardiologist to diagnose and treat patients with organic heart disease and to confirm Letterkenny General Hospital’s position as the Regional Centre for Cardiology in the North West.

The Friends have succeeded for 21 years through the hard work and dedication of a small committee that has been lead by only 3 Chairpersons and Mr Brian McGarvey was appointed as the 3 rd Chairperson in 2012.

As illustrated in the chronology of fund raising projects, The Friends have endeavoured to support services right across the hospital. The ideas and momentum have come from hospital staff in the various departments, ideas which were supported and promoted by hospital management and ultimately received with enthusiasm and energy by the Friends.

Well over €4.5million has been raised over the past 21 years from a variety of sources such as donations, corporate dinners, garden fetes, race meetings, church gate collections, marathons, Christmas draws, New Year’s Day swims, charity cycles, golf classics, table quizzes, concerts and many more areas besides.
The Friends remain committed to Letterkenny General Hospital and to raising funds to kick start new services that will help to make the difference between ordinary and extraordinary healthcare for the people of the North West. They are committed to working with hospital management and staff in a collaborative manner to ensure that the right priorities are targeted at the right time. The major beneficiaries are the people of Donegal and the North West who avail of the services in Letterkenny General Hospital. The Friends can justifiably claim to have been responsible for acting as a catalyst for bringing new services to the that would not normally have happened or have been delayed.

Here’s to the next 21 years and continued success to the Friends of Letterkenny General Hospital in their work of promoting service development at the hospital.
All are welcome to come along to the celebrations in The Mount Errigal Hotel on Friday night, the 15th November and to share with the Friends in celebrating their achievements.

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