Dáil debates

Tuesday, 16 May 2006

8:00 pm

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North, Sinn Fein)
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For the past decade there has been a campaign by senior citizens in the Tralee area, supported politically by all parties, councillors and the community in general, to try to achieve the construction of a community hospital for the Tralee catchment area. Many of those involved in that campaign have unfortunately passed away but the campaign continues.

To give the example of a case I dealt with personally, an elderly man had a stroke and was treated in Tralee General Hospital in recent weeks. He was 82 and his wife was 79. Due to the shortage of beds, he needed to be transferred to a community hospital or a nursing home and so was transferred to St. Columbanus' Home in Killarney. His family contacted me and, eventually, he got a bed in a nursing home near Tralee where he passed away last week. During his illness, his wife had to get members of her family to help her travel daily to Killarney to be with her dying husband.

That is the stark reality. This is happening to hundreds of people in the Tralee catchment area, where people must go either to Listowel community hospital or St. Columbanus' Home in Killarney, or go to health board beds in private nursing homes.

On 21 March last, I raised in the House the delay in the construction of Tralee community hospital. The Minister of State who replied stated the capital plan for Tralee community hospital had been approved by the HSE and had recently been submitted to the Tánaiste for consideration. He stated this consideration was in conjunction with consideration of Dingle community hospital. I am glad the funding has been made available for Dingle community hospital in the past number of days. As yet, we do not have any word regarding Tralee community hospital but I hope the Minister will announce funding for it in the weeks ahead.

Part of Kerry cannot be considered in isolation. I have never seen morale as low as that in the health care system in Kerry. I will give an example that was raised in Kerry County Council and will no doubt be raised with the Minister. Last week an ambulance was not available to take an ill woman to Cork. Her family had to put her in a Hiace van and take her by road to Cork. Due to the intervention of a Minister, an ambulance collected her in Macroom. That is how bad the situation is in the provision of health services in Kerry.

I appeal to the Tánaiste to end the guessing game and to give a definitive answer regarding funding for Tralee community hospital. Over 160 people attended a public meeting in Tralee last Thursday in support of the senior citizens and the community hospital — unfortunately, I could not attend as I was delayed in Dublin. They were angry and it was a difficult meeting for the councillors of the Government parties present. They got a rough time, although it is not their fault. The fault lies with the Minister. It is up to her, with the Minister for Finance, to make funding available for the hospital.

How many more public meetings must be held? How many more pickets will we see? We have had pickets on the streets on a monthly basis. How many more times will I and other Deputies from the area have to raise the issue of funding? More importantly, how many more of our elderly people will die before funding is made available to build a community hospital to which they are entitled? They have given their lives in the service of the State yet find themselves without the dignity of being able to die in their own area.

That is how serious the issue is. I appeal to the Minister. I know a decision is due. Let that decision be positive and let it be forthcoming as soon as possible.

Tim O'Malley (Limerick East, Progressive Democrats)
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I am delighted to have the opportunity to answer on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. It is the Department's policy to maintain older people in dignity and independence at home in accordance with their wishes and at the same time to provide high quality residential care for older people when living at home is no longer possible.

The Government's commitment to the development of a comprehensive range of services for older people has been clearly demonstrated by the significantly increased resources made available in recent years. From 1997 to 2005, inclusive, additional spending on services for older people was in excess of €302 million. In the budget package announced for 2006, additional revenue funding of €150 million in full year costs was allocated — €110 million in 2006 and a further €40 million in 2007 — for services for older people and palliative care.

The proposed development in Tralee is a 50-bed unit to be built on a green field site to be located off the Killerisk Road, Tralee. The facility will comprise two modules of 25 beds each plus ancillary facilities providing continuing care, respite care and convalescent care to dependent older people. The prioritisation of all health capital developments is a matter for the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. The capital plan, which includes the proposed development of Tralee community hospital, 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 in regard to the plan.