Dáil debates

Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Adjournment Debate.

Health Service Projects.

8:00 pm

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Approximately six years ago, the old convent property in Louisburgh, County Mayo, was purchased by the Western Health Board for £265,000. In November 2000, I was advised that the services to be provided at the convent would include psychiatric services, occupational therapy and physiotherapy services. Other services were also to be provided in that building. In October 2001, I was advised that the development of a day-care centre would be included in the Western Health Board's service plan for 2002. Consideration was also to be given to the provision of a respite facility.

When the initial costing of the property was being submitted it was expected that this would serve elderly members of the community within a 12-mile radius, including Inishturk Island, Clare Island and the areas surrounding Louisburgh. Currently, one room is being used for the rural social scheme, another room is used for physiotherapy, while a third is used as a tea-room for the elderly on Fridays.

Last night the "Prime Time Investigates" programme on hospital services was transmitted, which showed that step-down beds are needed. The Health Service Executive owns this property in County Mayo, having bought it at a reasonable cost. It provides an opportunity which should be availed of. At the time, the nuns sold it practically for nothing, yet six years on nothing has happened. Former Ministers in the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Martin, Deputy Callely, and the former Deputy, Dr. Moffatt, all came to County Mayo to make announcements. Those announcements were made before the local and general elections but to date nothing has happened.

One floor of the building has been developed but the rest has been left. I want to see all three floors of this property being developed to include a day-care centre. The HSE should put funding in place to provide the necessary facilities. The most important issue facing the country concerns our elderly population who wish to remain at home. In this case, the HSE owns a property which will not cost much to develop. If these facilities are put in place, such people need not unnecessarily occupy hospital beds. I ask the Minister of State to advance the project by providing the necessary funding. These facilities are badly wanted in Louisburgh. The building is already there and the local community will play its part in this regard. The Minister of State should urge the Health Service Executive to put this facility in place.

A day-care centre is badly needed along with respite care and other facilities for the elderly. There are two islands concerned, Inishturk and Clare Island, as well as Louisburgh and its surrounding areas. The HSE has the building which cost very little. Will the Minister of State push this matter forward? He should meet a delegation from the Louisburgh area to discuss their needs, what they want done and how we can progress this matter. Will he put that request for a meeting to his Department, whether it is dealt with by the Minister or her Ministers of State? The request is a reasonable one and the delegation would not mind coming to Dublin for such a meeting. Alternatively, if the Minister of State was in the west the delegation would be delighted to welcome him to County Mayo where he will be treated with courtesy and respect. The people concerned want to see action.

The Minister of State should ensure that this matter is advanced within the Department. The necessary funding should be put in place to try to develop this worthy project. The HSE already has the property whose ground floor has been developed. I would now like to see the remaining two floors being developed to bring in the required step-down beds that are so badly needed in the county.

I was in Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar on Sunday to visit someone who was ill and I saw people on trolleys. It is a shame to see people on trolleys in the corridors. I compliment the nurses for working so hard under pressure in difficult conditions. We are told that people are taking up hospital beds who could be dealt with in day-care facilities or in step-down beds. The project to which I have referred deserves support because it would relieve pressure on our hospital services. I ask the Minister of State to push this matter in his Department.

Tim O'Malley (Limerick East, Progressive Democrats)
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I thank Deputy Ring for raising this matter. This Government has made services for older people a priority and is fully committed to the development of a comprehensive health service capable of responding quickly, fully and effectively to the health service needs of older people.

Additional funding for services for older people and palliative care amounting to €150 million has been allocated by the Government following the 2006 budget: an additional €110 million for 2006 and an additional €40 million for 2007. Approximately two thirds of this money is allocated to community support for older people. This is in line with the focus on keeping people in their own homes, in independence and dignity, with a well funded and viable alternative to residential care with proper health and social support systems in place in the form of, among other supports, home care packages. This serves to demonstrate the Government's ongoing commitment to improving services for our older population.

Significant capital funding for the health sector has been provided since the commencement of the NDP in 2000. A day care centre is recognised as an important service in the continuum of care necessary to support older people from an area to remain living at home, and their carers. It provides older people in the area with a facility where they can meet new friends and enjoy recreational activities, promoting social contact among older people with the intention of preventing loneliness. It also provides a break for carers and social and physical stimulation in a safe environment for the older members of the local community.

Older people deserve first-class facilities and recent years have seen dramatic changes in both the concept and practice of providing services for older people. Enormous strides have been made and continue to be made in developing a comprehensive, community-based service that is integrated with other health services. The shift in the delivery of services from predominantly hospital-based care has been extremely successful and undoubtedly the quality of care for older people has been enhanced by this development. I assure the Deputy that the issues surrounding older people and their welfare are being given priority by this Government.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services, including its capital programme. The progression of the proposed five-day day-care centre at the old convent property, Louisburgh, is therefore a matter for the HSE.

My Department has made inquiries of the Health Service Executive and has been informed that the old convent property in Louisburgh was purchased by the HSE in 2001 and refurbishment of the ground floor was completed in 2004. Currently, the Louisburgh social service group provides day care one day per week from the centre. The HSE provides funding to the group for this service.

The HSE has also informed my Department that the estimated cost of providing a five-day, day-care facility is approximately €328,000. I also understand that the HSE has plans for the further development phase of the existing health centre at the convent facilities in Louisburgh to provide integrated community services.

The prioritisation of all health capital developments is a matter for the HSE under the Health Act 2004. The capital plan, which includes the proposed refurbishment of facilities at Louisburgh, has been approved by the HSE board and was submitted to the Tánaiste for consideration. The Tánaiste will revert to the HSE in the near future concerning this plan.