Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Taoiseach): Statements
I acknowledge the continuing impact of Covid-19 on our most vulnerable. Our debt of gratitude to our front-line and community healthcare workers grows ever greater.
I want to update the House on some people from Waterford who are supporting our national efforts to overcome the many challenges the coronavirus epidemic is presenting every day. I thank Commandant Dr. Patrick Kelly of the Irish Defence Forces. Dr. Kelly is an expert in infectious disease management and has been supporting my office in recent weeks in assisting implementation of large industry back-to-work protocols. I thank the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation for their support and assistance in these matters.
I commend Ambassador Daniel Mulhall. Through close co-operation over a number of weeks with the consul general in Atlanta, Mr. Shane Stephens, Ambassador Mulhall and the British Consulate General, along with my office, secured the repatriation yesterday to Ireland of four Irish nationals. These citizens had suffered weeks of arduous lockdowns on ships off the coast of the United States, with no immediate prospect of returning to Ireland. I thank Ambassador Mulhall for his services in this matter.
I thank hospital management at University Hospital Waterford, UHW, for their continuing efforts in Covid-19 activity. Further to my request some weeks ago in this House, they directed the UHW south east regional pathology laboratory to facilitate the analysis of covid swabs to be taken in our residential care settings. This has enabled test results to be turned around in less than 48 hours and is assisting greatly in keeping nursing homes in Waterford largely free of Covid-19. Additionally, further to support I requested and received from the Minister for Health, I can confirm that significant initiatives in medical device and PPE development by our applied materials technology gateway at Waterford Institute of Technology are in development and are being supported by the HSE. Furthermore, business promoters in Waterford. who wish to remain anonymous, are playing a major part in assisting large volume specification approved PPE purchases in China, which are helping to protect our front-line healthcare workers.
Waterford and the south east are giving much to the national effort but a significant issue remains to be clarified with respect to our national standing and treatment. In recent days, the modular cardiac catheterisation lab in place since 2017, providing diagnostic angiogram services, has been removed from University Hospital Waterford, leaving the entire population of the south east of 500,000 people entirely dependent on one operational catheterisation lab being operated in the UPMC Whitfield private hospital.
The people of the south east have yet again been pushed back to 2016 operational standards. I refer to having one catheterisation laboratory for 39 hours per week in a supposedly nationally designated cardiac care centre dealing with acute heart attacks. The 14-year-old main catheterisation laboratory in University Hospital Waterford was scheduled for a four-month refit, which has been stopped because of Covid-19 infection control protocols. UPMC Whitfield recently installed and commissioned its laboratory in eight weeks. Our remodification is scheduled for 14 weeks, which will now probably be 20 weeks.
A second catheterisation laboratory, which the Government promised on 18 September 2018, saying it would be built under a 13-month programme, has not yet been cleared even for a pre-qualification listing for construction tender award. I could make five telephone calls here today and find five contractors who are pre-qualified to do the work. It is fair to say that if political capital in Waterford were counted in currency, it would currently constitute a bucket of escudos.
Questions I asked the Minister for Health on these issues in this House on 24 April remained unanswered until about five minutes ago, when I received a communication from my office to the effect that a statement had come in from the Minister. Funnily enough, it is dated 14 May. I welcome the press release that was issued two days ago through one of the Fine Gael Senators. It states that, with respect to the development of a second catheterisation laboratory at UHW, it is anticipated "the project will go to tender before late July." I am anticipating a three-course meal at home this evening when I return to Waterford but given that my wife works full-time and I have three young children, I would say I have little chance of getting it. The timeline being discussed is 22 months after the initial announcement. Must we conclude that we may anticipate the reactivation of the refurbishment of our existing catheterisation laboratory also in the coming months?
May I bring the Taoiseach back to a statement he made in Waterford on 31 July 2017 at the opening of the extension to Bausch & Lomb, where he was speaking on the issue of educational healthcare? There he said that for as long as he was Taoiseach, Waterford would not be neglected or forgotten. I am asking him now to act on this fine sentiment, which he so clearly expressed and which he expressed as someone with deep roots in Waterford. Will he instruct his Department to take responsibility for and oversee both the remodification timelines for the existing catheterisation laboratory at UHW and the project execution in respect of the second permanent catheterisation laboratory facility?
Will his Department also oversee the equitable expansion of cardiac resources at the Waterford centre? We know from three years of recent HSE ambulance data that just 1.5% of heart attack patients transferred to regional centres when the Waterford centre is closed arrive within the clinical timeframe. This means 98.5% do not. The people of the south east have waited long enough to have this national centre placed on par with the other five regional cardiac care centres in the country. Will the Taoiseach, during the remaining term of the Government, ensure steps are taken immediately to approve and mandate the delivery of what has been promised to us and is required by us and in so doing provide some redress for the inequality and capacity constraint in the regional cardiac service in the south east?