Thursday, 1 December 2005
This matter concerns hospital configuration in the Health Service Executive eastern region. As we all know, there has been rapid and significant demographic change in the counties of Louth and Meath, and in south Monaghan, east Cavan and north Dublin. Much of this area is served by Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, the Louth County Hospital in Dundalk, Monaghan Hospital and Our Lady's Hospital in Navan.
For various reasons, all these hospitals have been in the news in recent years. The fact that this is the case graphically illustrates the need for the Department of Health and Children and HSE to stand back and consider the health care infrastructure in the area, and decide its adequacy going forward. The best test for the infrastructure is the pressure which will inevitably arise with regard to accident and emergency services and the number of patients who must leave the catchment area to have elective surgery elsewhere. While I do not have access to the relevant statistics, I daresay that the statistics would not be favourable in regard to the range of facilities and outlets available and the number of patients seeking access to them.
When we talk of a centre of excellence for health care, we inevitability think of a long lead-in period prior to any development. The starting point is a detailed feasibility study that will assess the facilities available before those who will make the decisions get down to the difficult task of quantifying the options. Inevitably, given the parochial nature of debate that tends to surround the provision of health care outlets and hospitals, this will lead in turn to a significant public debate. However, it is a process we must undertake.
The population is growing and while the county development plans help the region to cope, we may have to seek shorter review periods for the respective development plans to take account of the rapidity with which houses are being built. This housing development in turn leads to increased demand for additional public services such as schools, shops and the range of facilities needed by residents. However, we all agree that the quality of health care available to local communities is top of the agenda. While the existing hospitals have done an excellent job, we must consider the likely position in 15 or 20 years and decide what the region's needs will be at that time.
All the indicators point in the same direction. We need a centre of excellence in the eastern region. In the western part of the former North Eastern Health Board region, Cavan Hospital is clearly catering for the needs of its catchment area. I strongly advocate to the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children that the Department initiate a feasibility study in this regard as soon as possible.
I thank Deputy Kirk for raising this matter. I reply on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney.
Under the Health Act 2004, the Health Service Executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.
The HSE is considering the development of hospital services at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda and Louth County Hospital, Dundalk. A major feasibility study was commissioned to investigate the viability of further developing services on the existing site in Drogheda. The HSE in the north east, proposes to progress significant developments including theatres, central sterile services department, pathology, physical medicine, pharmacy and radiology. The accident and emergency project is under way and is scheduled to be completed next year.
The Department understands that the development plan for the Louth County Hospital is being prepared by the technical services department of the HSE north-eastern region in consultation with staff, and this is now in final draft form. The outline development control plan describes a practical strategy for the comprehensive renewal of Louth County Hospital on the current site. The total redevelopment is to be accomplished through a maximum of five packages of new and refurbished construction, with most clinical and diagnostic services developed in the first two packages. As well as the proposed new construction, it is planned to undertake extensive refurbishment of the existing hospital.
Interim projects for the hospital include plans agreed and planning permission granted for two interim theatres to be constructed adjacent to the existing day services unit to provide adequate facilities for the joint department of surgery. It is necessary to undertake infrastructural work to the hospital kitchen facility to meet regulatory requirements. Approval of the design team selection has been received. Design will commence following the finalisation of the development and control plan. The HSE is developing the detailed tender and contract documentation specifications and hope to advance the upgrade of electrical works in late 2005 early 2006.
The development plans for Drogheda and Dundalk now require to be progressed by the National Hospitals Office in the context of its development plans for the region.