Wednesday, 15 December 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Health Services Staff
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle as ucht an ábhair seo a roghnú. Táim ag díriú isteach inniu ar an ionad cúraim lae Naomh Proinsias sa Chaisleán Nua i nGaillimh. Tá cosúlacht ann go bhfuil droch-chinneadh déanta fáil réidh leis an gcistin lán-fheistithe agus an fhoireann atá ann ag soláthar béilí folláine ar feadh breis agus 20 bliain, ní hamháin do na daoine a fhreastalaíonn ar an ionad lae ach don ionad i bPáirc Mhuirlinne do leanaí agus ógánaigh freisin.
The Minister of State is very familiar with St Francis Nursing Home in County Galway. It is dearly loved there. It was a nursing home and is currently a day centre. It was at the top of everybody's list. I had the privilege of collecting 22,000 signatures to keep the nursing home open. We failed to keep it open but managed to keep the day centre open. On the very week it closed, there was an announcement from Government that we did not have enough public nursing homes, and we know the result of that when we look at Covid.
Today it is a day centre. The capacity is much bigger than the numbers currently attending, given Covid. I am focusing on the kitchen, the chef and the team who are there for more than 20 years supplying healthy food, not only to the people attending the day centre but equally to the child and adolescent mental health service, CAMHS, in Merlin Park. As the Minister of State knows, CAMHS, deals with many eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and so on. Here we have a kitchen that is fantastic and a team that is superb. It appears the HSE in its wisdom, or lack thereof, has made a decision to close the kitchen and outsource the catering facilities. The staff have been informed.
It is appalling and I hope the Minister of State can do something about this for many reasons. First, it is an excellent service. It has won awards over the years. Second, as I said, it supplies meals not only to the day centre but also to CAMHS. Third, if we have learned anything from Covid and climate change, it is that we need to go back and go local and to take the power back. Here is a perfect service. If we allow this to go, it is going to happen all over the country. The kitchen is serving meals in a sustainable and healthy way. I will read fromthe Mental Health Commission's latest inspection reportof CAMHS in relation to food. It is compliant of course, because of St Francis Nursing Home and the chef and his small team:
Residents were provided with a variety of wholesome and nutritious food in the approved centre. Food was properly prepared and comprised of servings from different food groups as per the Food Pyramid. Residents received at least two choices for meals.
It goes on to talk about water and the needs of residents being identified in the care plan. My point is the food is excellent. It has been recognised externally with awards over the years.
The decision would seem to have been made without any analysis of the risks involved or the consequences. When the letters were sent out, they had to be changed subsequently to make the decision process correct. However, I will leave that for the staff and unions. My concern relates to an excellent service.
I ask that the Minister of State looks at this. Why is the HSE doing it? It is doing so because extra clinical space or offices are needed. The centre has many possibilities. It is big enough to give extra space but not to get rid of a fully functioning, fully equipped kitchen that is providing an excellent service. In fact, if the HSE was to look at it, perhaps the services could even be extended.
I thank the Deputy for bringing this to the floor of the Dáil. I am taking this debate on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Butler. I will read into the record her response, or some of it anyway. I happen to know St Francis Nursing Home. It is important for me to put that on record as well. I am aware of the work that goes on there.
I am further aware that when we have a service that is working and functioning, sometimes we should think twice before we try to break it.
Day centres are fundamental to the health and well-being of our older population and play a key role in enabling older people to live independently in their own communities. The reopening of these centres is a priority for the Minister of State, Deputy Butler.
The HSE has operational responsibility for planning, managing and delivering health and personal social services. The reopening of day care centres for older people has commenced following their necessary closure last year. The HSE continues to actively work on the resumption of these vital services as a priority in line with current public health guidance. At the end of October, approximately 200 centres for older people had reopened and I am pleased to say that the St. Francis day service reopened in early October. To be honest, Deputy Connolly advocated seriously for the reopening of day services as well.
The HSE has decided that the space used for catering at the St. Francis centre will be dedicated to clinical space for enhanced community care including integrated care for older persons and day care. This will support older people to have their needs met within the community, benefiting from a multidisciplinary team and working towards providing them with the right care in the right place at the right time. Recruitment is currently under way for most of the posts required.
In addition to the St. Francis centre being proposed as a clinical space for integrated care for older persons, there are a number of other primary care services also planned for the centre that will provide services to the community in line with Sláintecare and enhanced community care. The HSE has assured the Department that day services for older people will continue to run in the St. Francis centre as part of the new configuration.
The continued enhancement and improvement of our mental health and suicide prevention services remains a priority for my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, and for the Government as a whole. She was pleased to secure unprecedented funding of €1.149 billion for HSE mental health services next year. This is an increase of €47 million over 2021, and will enable the continued implementation of Sharing the Vision, our national mental health policy, including important recommendations relating to CAMHS. Next year's new development funding will provide for the recruitment of 350 new staff across mental health and will allow for new initiatives in community mental health teams, including CAMHS, CAMHS telehubs, out-of-hours supports, specialist eating disorder services and mental health services for older people.
In the remaining time, it is important to address the question Deputy Connolly asked, which is why we are closing a kitchen that is professionally run by a chef that supports the needs of older people within the community. It also provides a meals-on-wheels service. I am no different to you, Acting Chairman, in that I am from a rural constituency. We know the value of a day service which some people attend one or two days a week, but they might take home meals for another two days. Such provision of care is important. I could perhaps take up the issue with the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, on behalf of Deputy Connolly. It may be something we need to take up at a local level with Breda Crehan-Roche to have a clear understanding of the exact decision process involved and to see if it is possible to preserve the kitchen.
I thank the Minister of State for finally addressing my question, which is about a review. I realise she is stepping in for somebody else, but services for older people and mental health overlap as well. I got a page with the reply, and other than the middle part that tells me there is a reconfiguration, I got a hymn of praise to the amount of money provided. I know the Ministers are working hard. I have said that. I am not going to waste my precious time on that, but on the very bad decision to close a wonderful kitchen, which is fully equipped and where the chef has been there for more than 20 years. There is a lovely and very competent team supplying healthy food where we have control and see what is happening. There is quality food and no worries about anything. In addition, the kitchen complies with the special needs of CAMHS in Merlin Park. What kind of idiotic management - I put it as strongly as that - makes a decision to close a fully equipped kitchen instead of analysing it to see how it could be further extended? Further on in the reply, insult is added to injury by referring to the crisis café. We have a full restaurant kitchen supplying wonderful meals and we are getting rid of it.
In reply to my question, I got a whole load of stuff that is nothing to do with it. It is Christmas time and I want to be positive. I wish everyone a happy Christmas. This is a day centre that is crucial. Food is a crucial part of psychology. It is not just about eating healthy food, but sitting down together and eating a meal. A ridiculous decision was made a few years ago on the Lá Nua centre, where the lunches were taken away. I urge the Minister of State to help if she has any influence. It is time to stop the sweet words, to show vision and leadership and to say this is nuts. It is simply not acceptable. There may be a need to reorganise and restructure but we should not get rid of a vital service. We must learn from it. The service has been complimented by the Mental Health Commission. We must look at how it operates and how we can extend it. Rather than privatising everything and going bigger, instead we should go smaller with better control and look at how we can extend the services.
I will. When I put out my hand like that, it was to include both of us. We will have a meeting to understand exactly what is the thought process, first and foremost, but also for Deputy Connolly and I to articulate our views on this. I know from the day care centre in Portumna that the kitchen is the most important part. It is the heart and soul of a building. It is very important that a person who might not show up for one or two days is able to bring the food home. I do not know how that would work operationally if a service is outsourced because it would tailor the quantity to the people there. I will set up a meeting and I have no doubt the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, will be supportive of my doing that. If it is okay with the Deputy, I will not say any more other than we will set up a meeting on the issue.