Tuesday, 22 September 2009
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this important and urgent issue for all senior citizens in Kildare and west Wicklow in receipt of care at St. Vincent's Hospital, Athy, County Kildare. The closure of a ward in any hospital due to cutbacks in hospital budgets creates problems for its community, hospital personnel, patients and their families. When the closure affects a hospital that cares for senior citizens, such as St. Vincent's, it creates a larger problem as all the patients affected tend to be long-stay and very accustomed to their surroundings.
I have first-hand knowledge of the care and attention given at St. Vincent's as my mother is a long-term patient there. I acknowledge and appreciate the wonderful care given to the patients and attention to their families by the staff of the facility. Since my mother became a patient there, I have seen the advances made in the provision of extra facilities and care. Many of the facilities have been provided by the dedicated fund-raising works of the director and assistant director of nursing with voluntary groups. Gardens and walks have been created with many internal building improvement works to the benefit of the patients and their families. All are to be congratulated on this work.
The HSE, however, has determined the closure of wards in the hospital system is the answer to its financial woes. Places of excellence, such as St. Vincent's Hospital, will suffer and many senior citizens will not be able to avail of respite care. Is the HSE aware that reducing facilities or closing wards will deprive those who built this nation of their God-given right to care in their old age? The answer is patently clear. It is a book-keeping exercise where money counts and lives do not matter.
If a patient seeks palliative, respite or long-term care in St. Vincent's through the HSE application system or a GP, will they be refused the request by hospital management because of a decision by the HSE? What logic can be applied to the actions of the HSE in this regard?
The old adage, why change it if it works well, is very appropriate to this case. The hospital works well in the Kildare and west Wicklow health system. It is recognised by everyone in and outside of its catchment area as an excellent brand product that could evolve to even greater services by advancing all of its sectors, such as Alzheimer's, long-term and respite care. However, the HSE stymies progress, frustrates staff, worries patients and their families all for the reduction of the HSE financial budget.
The care of our loved ones should be beyond such budgets. The care and attention given in St. Vincent's Hospital is for what we pay our taxes. The HSE at executive level has no feel for the St. Vincent's of this world. In reality, it would rather see them closed and the service privatised than having the initiative to develop such facilities further as could easily be done at the St. Vincent's campus in Athy. The Minister for Health and Children has no other objective than privatisation as can be seen in many of the proposals that come from her Department.
Will the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, speak to the Minister for Health and Children on this matter? I note she again is absent from the Chamber. She never attends Adjournment debate matters on health services. That is not meant to be a reflection on the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary. I want the Minister of State to seek an assurance from the Minister that St. Vincent's will retain all of its facilities and that the closed ward will be re-opened to facilitate the many senior citizens from the catchment area who seek a place there. Anything else is unacceptable and the anger this closure has created will be noted when the people of South Kildare march in protest this Saturday.
Dara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I present the apologies of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, who has asked me to take this debate.
I thank Deputy Wall for raising this issue. I had the pleasure of being in his town today and I congratulate everybody involved in the very successful National Ploughing Championships.
Government policy is to support older people to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. Where this is not feasible, the health service supports access to quality long-term residential care where this is appropriate. The Health Service Executive has operational responsibility for the delivery of health and social services, including those at St. Vincent's hospital, Athy.
St. Vincent's is a 199 bed long-stay unit in the Kildare-west Wicklow community care area. Staff shortages, due to recruitment issues and maternity, sick and annual leave, have put continuing pressure on supporting beds at St. Vincent's Hospital. HSE senior management, in consultation with local senior staff decided, in the interest of the residents and overall service integrity to introduce service consolidation arrangements. This consolidation required the relocation of patients from one unit, St. Camillus ward, to existing vacancies in a number of other units within St. Vincent's. This is to ensure that the highest standard of care will continue to be provided to all patients in a safe and secure environment. I believe the House will agree that the safety and care of the residents is our first concern. Most importantly we must consider what is in their best interests. Each hospital, local health office, manager, clinician and other people working in the health services has a responsibility to provide the best possible service to patients, their families and other clients of the health services.
The HSE has confirmed that it is taking steps to ensure that the closure of this ward will not result in a reduction in the number of beds available in the region. It has arranged to make additional private nursing home beds available to both community and hospital patients in order to minimise the impact of the planned changes. In addition the executive has confirmed that the hospital has catered for all scheduled respite services. The Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act was signed into law on 1 July 2009. Certain sections of the Act have been commenced to enable the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, to immediately begin price negotiations with private nursing homes. It is the Minister's intention to commence the scheme for the public in the final quarter of the year.
The scheme will equalise State support for individuals in public, voluntary and private long-term nursing home care. This will meet one of the objectives of Towards 2016, namely, that State support should be indifferent as to whether a person is in public or private care. Individuals will contribute to their care based on their income and the value of their assets. No-one will pay more than the cost of his or her care. There are approximately 20 private nursing homes with more than 1,000 beds spread across the Kildare-west Wicklow region. The introduction of the scheme should eliminate the financial need for people to seek public nursing home care. This will allow older people to choose to receive residential care in a wider range of centres, including those which would be closer to their homes and families.