Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Public Accounts Committee

Financial Statement 2020 and Related Matters: HSE (Resumed)

10:10 am

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I have two points. First, we still do not have sight of what the costs of refurbishment would be. Second, it is our understanding that it is proposed to rehouse or rehome some people in institutional settings like St. Stephen's Hospital in Glanmire and also in St. Catherine's, and possibly on the site of St. Finbarr's Hospital in Cork. If it is the case that the HSE is proposing to re-institutionalise people at a time when the HSE policy and Government policy is to decongregate, I think that would be taken very seriously. I ask that the HSE take another look at this decision on the basis that people are very concerned, given where it is proposed that people will be sent to, in that this further institutionalises them. All I am asking at this stage is that Mr. Reid take another look at this and run the rule over it, as chief executive officer. I will leave it there.

SouthDoc is very important. During the pandemic, a number of cells were taken out of action, and that is the fact of the matter. Mitchelstown and Fermoy, as well as the Cork centres, were taken out. This meant that cars were going much further afield to cover off services on an out-of-hours basis. It meant that doctors were much more stretched, if they were doing home visits. Please do not tell us how the service works. We know how the service works. There is a fear that the €7.5 million of taxpayers’ investment in this service is not buying enough scrutiny of the service that is being provided, notwithstanding the fact it is a separate entity. There is a presence by the HSE on the board of SouthDoc. To my mind, that buys the taxpayer and the HSE greater scrutiny of how SouthDoc operates.

On Deputy Colm Burke's point, which he ran out of time on, I share his view. More and more people are now going to Cork University Hospital, CUH, on an accident-and-emergency basis and bypassing SouthDoc because they do not feel confident that they will be seen at times by SouthDoc. We need to deal with perceptions in the public mind as to how SouthDoc operates. I am very familiar with the Mallow service and the Mitchelstown-Fermoy service. They are excellent services staffed by brilliant people. I could not say enough good things about them. However, we do not have a service in Youghal out of hours. Someone who phones from Youghal is expected to go to Midleton. That is a journey of about half an hour. The services at times are stretched between the Waterford border and the Kerry border.

There needs to be a review of how SouthDoc operates. It is our view that the €7.5 million investment of taxpayers' money buys the HSE greater scrutiny to ensure that it is triaging and building out a public message in a way that ensures that if people can avoid the accident and emergency department in CUH and go through their local services, while those services are very good, there might need to be a greater degree of scrutiny or some sort of review as to how the services operate, particularly within the city. There needs to be a look back on why the Blackpool and Fermoy-Mitchelstown services were closed because the HSE took out a massive geographical area there. They were taken out during the pandemic. I ask - this is my only ask - that the HSE look back on how SouthDoc operated during the pandemic. A little report could be furnished to Members of the Oireachtas or there could be just a look back on the basis of what lessons can be learned, how the service, which is by and large an excellent service, can operate more efficiently and whether it can cover more sufficiently east Cork. I am convinced that it is not covering the Youghal area. It does not have sufficient resources to cover the Youghal area and ensure that people in Youghal or further afield are not forced to go to Midleton or onward to Cork, directly to an accident and emergency department.