Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Committee on Public Petitions

Public Petition on St. Brigid’s Hospital, Carrick-on-Suir: Save St. Brigid’s Action Group

Ms Susan Mullins:

I thank the committee so much for this opportunity and for welcoming our delegation to present an urgent appeal from the local community in Carrick-on-Suir and environs to reopen St. Brigid's Hospital. The hospital was for decades a source of much-needed respite, convalescence and hospice services under the excellent provision of care by kind, professionally qualified staff. We thank members for giving us their time to listen to our case and look forward to engaging with them in a positive step forward on this important issue that affects many families who live in the catchment area of Tipperary, Waterford and Kilkenny, and will into the future. We also extend our sincere thanks to the clerk to the committee for her patience, kindness and understanding at all times as we submitted our documents over recent years. We cannot stress enough that all our past meetings and peaceful protests held by local people have been non-political and always community-led.

I am a qualified solicitor and am self-employed in my family-run legal practice in Carrick-on-Suir and in Tramore, County Waterford. I live in Carrick, which is my native town. I am here in a personal capacity as a concerned member of the community in Carrick. I am not being paid for my attendance today, or for any work I carry out in the save St Brigid’s campaign. On a personal note, St Brigid’s Hospital has been an integral part of my life. My mum was a midwife there in the late 1960s and 1970s, and often after school I would be up there in the kitchens. St. Brigid's was a wonderful community hospital. My dad died there in the hospice rooms following palliative care. That was absolutely fabulous for me as I was pregnant and had an 18-month-old at home.

I was also trying to run a business. It was wonderful to be in our local town, where I could visit my dad in his final week. My paternal grandparents also died very peacefully in St. Brigid's, surrounded by very caring staff. Mr. Torpey will introduce himself and his expertise in a moment.

To give the committee a flavour of the history of St. Brigid's, it started 183 years ago, in 1840, when it opened as a fully functional small district 16-bed hospital catering and caring for local people from the cradle to the grave. The hospital facilitated local people who needed maternity care and were delivering children and catered for people suffering from all forms of illnesses. Minor operations were carried out in the hospital. In later years, it morphed to accommodate people for respite and convalescence, with separate male and female wings. In more recent years, the last 20 years, three state-of-the-art hospice rooms and en suite rooms with kitchenettes and sitting and sleeping areas for family were added. There were almost 30 people employed in the hospital.

The local people of Carrick and its environs part-funded the hospice rooms through years of massive fundraising efforts, some of which also went towards replacing all the windows and doors in the entire building and the installation of a lift. At funerals in Carrick and its surrounding areas, it is a regular sight to see signs seeking donations to St. Brigid’s rather than flowers for the deceased. It is impossible for me to emphasise adequately the connection the people of the area have with St. Brigid’s Hospital. Almost every family has had a loved one or neighbour stay at St. Brigid’s for one reason or another over the years. St. Brigid’s Hospital has been a haven for families in the area and the distress and anguish at its closure cannot be adequately articulated.

On the facilities, the hospital was a short-stay designated centre for older people with patients staying for up to two weeks - sometimes longer if deemed necessary by their GP but never longer than a maximum of four to six weeks - for convalescence after an illness and respite care, for younger people who were chronically ill and for end-of-life care for those over 18 years of age. Each palliative care unit was fitted with a private room for the patient, a bathroom and a kitchen and sitting room for family members who were staying at the hospital. Each of the three hospice rooms located on the ground floor led out to a beautiful walled garden and patio area, a haven of peace offering dignity and privacy to both patients receiving end-of-life care and their families at a time of extreme emotional distress. The hospice facilities gave family and friends genuine peace of mind and great comfort as they could call in and visit their loved ones at any time of the day or night and also stay overnight. It was also a source of relief for patients and families as a team of qualified nurses and care staff members were on duty 24-7 and nearby GPs could visit, assess and reassure their patients.

Following the loss of these services in April 2020, no alternative service was put in place. Instead, local people must now use the facilities of private nursing homes for respite care or travel to St. Teresa’s Hospital in Clogheen for end-of-life care. St. Teresa’s is a 40-minute drive from Carrick-on-Suir and no public transport is available. Carrick is a DEIS town. It is a disadvantaged town and an awful lot of people do not have cars or private transport.

The large number of people who have died from cancer in the Carrick area over the last few years and whose families have had no close access to hospice care has caused immense suffering and stress and this situation is continuing to impact severely on everyone in our community. Over the 20 years of palliative care service provision in St. Brigid’s Hospital, between 28 and 30 people died there every year. That is approximately one person every two weeks. It was very much end-of-life care in the hospice. Respite and convalescence care provision have also gone, putting severe pressure on carers who deserve and need a break from their 24-hour caring role. Our older people in respite care always enjoyed the high standard of care they received from the caring, diligent and friendly team in St. Brigid’s. They were also mostly among friends and local people they knew, which was greatly comforting for them in their later years. I will pass over to Mr. Torpey to deliver the second part of the opening statement.