Thursday, 25 November 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Primary Care Centres
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, for coming to the House. I have been given the time to raise this important issue and the people of Tullow in County Carlow are depending on me to get answers. In April 2016, a parliamentary question was submitted to the then Minister for Health, the current Tánaiste, on a proposed primary care centre for Tullow, County Carlow. In the reply, the then Minister stated: "The HSE proposes to deliver the primary care centre for the Tullow, Rathvilly and Hacketstown area using the direct/owned-build mechanism." In 2016, the HSE was going to build it. In a reply at the time, the HSE stated that its capital plan would fund the centre.
Following several questions I submitted on the issue since then, I was contacted by the agency to tell me that Tullow had only this year been identified as one of the areas for the development of a new primary care centre which will also serve the local communities in Hacketstown and Rathvilly. The new centre will provide a single point of access to a broad range of much-needed services for the people in Tullow, but only now has the HSE identified a number of interested developers and finalised a list of accommodation.
I have raised this issue again because I am really concerned. The initial information came from the then Minister for Health in 2016. It is now near the end of 2021. In April 2022, six years will have passed. I am no further on than I was in April 2016. Despite having been in contact with the HSE, I cannot even find out where in Tullow this facility will be built. I have only been told that it has identified a site in Tullow but I cannot find out the site location. I do not know how big it is and I certainly cannot find out how long it will take.
A primary care centre is important particularly in towns like Tullow and Bagenalstown in a mainly rural county. During the Covid pandemic waiting lists have increased with delays in people trying to get appointments. Nearly six years later, I am not able to tell people of Tullow, Hacketstown and Rathvilly where in Tullow their centre will be located and when it will be built. I thank the Minister of State for coming in and I hope she has good news for me tonight. It is not acceptable to have to wait six years.
I thank Deputy Murnane O'Connor for raising this issue. I acknowledge her work in advocating for the people of Carlow-Kilkenny. I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly.
I can confirm that a preferred site has been identified close to Tullow town centre for the construction of a new primary care centre. The new facility will not only provide community services to the people of Tullow, it will also serve the local population in the surrounding areas of Rathvilly and Hacketstown. Subject to the established procurement protocols and planning approvals, it is expected that works should commence on site early in quarter 1 of 2022. I must ask the Deputy this question. Has she seen a planning application submitted to Carlow County Council? If she has seen it, the planning application will show the identified site and we all know how long the planning application process takes. If she has not seen it, I will need to take the matter up with the HSE to see where it is at with submitting the application.
The centre will complement and build on the work already being done by the HSE's south-east community healthcare services in delivering primary care, mental health, social care, and health and well-being services in Carlow. It will provide a broad range of services, including GPs, public health nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, dentists, podiatrists, speech and language therapists, and psychologists.
To ensure that access to all these services is as straightforward as possible, the centre will contain a number of multidisciplinary bookable rooms for visiting healthcare professionals, while the required car parking facilities will also be provided. In addition, the centre will serve as a base for one of the 30 multidisciplinary specialist teams for chronic disease being developed under the enhanced community care programme. These teams will target four ambulatory care-sensitive conditions, namely, diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure, and will allow patients to access care in the community, close to where they live rather than having to travel to hospital.
I am sure the Deputy will agree that this is an especially welcome development, and a concrete example of how the Government's significant investment in health services is benefiting local people and individual patients. In my role as Minister of State, I know the challenges that we face in building up services in the community and in tackling waiting lists. I certainly do not pretend that things are perfect. What I can say is that the development of this centre will improve services in Tullow and the surrounding area by providing: access to a greater range of health and social care services within the community; better integration between hospital and primary care services; an holistic approach to community needs with enhanced capacity for primary care in the areas of disease prevention, rehabilitation and personal social services; and shared care arrangements for the management of chronic conditions.
This is a welcome development, and another step on the road to implementing Sláintecare and transforming how we deliver health services in our community. I hope that answers the Deputy's question. I know it does not give her a specific site location. However, as the HSE expects this to come on stream in quarter 1 of 2022, I would assume that the planning application is in the offing.
I thank the Minister of State. I regularly check planning applications to Carlow County Council. We have a good news story coming from Carlow. I have seen a planning application for a 140-bed hospital and I will be speaking to the Minister in respect of that matter. I have not seen a planning application for this primary care centre. While I welcome this, and I assure the Minister of State that I monitor planning applications at all time, I have concerns that the HSE has not responded to me with more information.
I am constantly addressing the matter here and I am constantly in contact with the HSE. I welcome this. It is important now that the planning application goes through as soon as possible. I will do anything I can to help because Tullow has waited nearly six years for this.
The Minister of State indicates this will happen in 2022, which is really welcome, although we are looking at another year and a half or two years before this will be built. We must be practical. The Minister of State knows there is an eight-week period in the planning process and people might put in submissions or whatever. We do not have a timescale but this information is welcome. I will ensure I promote this as best I can. I am sure the people of Tullow, Hacketstown and Rathvilly will do the same because this service was needed years ago.
I know the Minister of State is stepping in for the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and I thank her for that. I have major concerns, however, as trying to get information on certain projects from the HSE can sometimes be impossible. People from these areas come to me and want to know when such projects will happen and a primary care centre for Tullow, Hacketstown and Rathvilly is vital. This news is really important and I will stay in contact with the Minister of State. I thank her for that good answer.
I can assure the Deputy that the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, and I are absolutely committed to delivering the investment and reforms required to improve our health service. This very much includes the continuing development of primary care centres right across the country. Significant progress has been made and there are now 146 operational centres throughout the country, up from 70 at the end of 2012. Looking to next year we are targeting the opening of another 24 centres, so we have real momentum in the building programme. These facilities are key to enhancing and expanding capacity in the primary care sector and delivering high-quality integrated care to people in their own communities. I am happy to be able to confirm the people of Tullow will be able to avail of a primary care centre in the not too distant future.
I have no doubt the Deputy and, I dare say, the local community are waiting for building works to begin. I understand there would be some impatience and the desire for things to move more quickly. However, there should be no doubt there is a commitment to building a primary care centre in Tullow and, ultimately, the local community will be able to access health and social care services from a well-equipped, high-quality and purpose-built facility.