Thursday, 31 March 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
I thank the Deputy for raising the question. I acknowledge his ongoing advocacy and work for Ballina Hospital.
I very much look forward to meeting the Deputy in the hospital soon and meeting healthcare workers and management there to look at what more can be done in future with respect to ongoing provision for services.
Ballina is a very important hospital. It is 62-bed hospital providing short-stay facilities for those discharged from Mayo University Hospital who require convalescence before being discharged or a long-stay bed in a community nursing unit. I acknowledge attempts have been made to carry out capital improvements in Ballina. The Deputy has repeatedly brought these to the attention of the House. Submissions were received in November 2018 for a 75-bed replacement unit and, in January 2021, for a 30-bed interim build. These have not yet been fully appraised by the HSE. It is not a situation I am satisfied with and I am aware the Deputy is not satisfied with it either. I have asked both the Department and the HSE to move on these more quickly. Some of the delay was down to Covid. However, I am not satisfied with the pace this is moving at.
A new proposal was submitted via the national property steering committee at February's meeting concerning the planned replacement of the current facility in Ballina with a modular build, which is urgent and would make a big difference. Engagements have taken place with the CHO since the February meeting, which is important. We are pushing to get this happening. The HSE is to come back confirming bed numbers, types and costs for Ballina. An amended proposal has been submitted for consideration at the next property steering committee meeting, which is taking place in a few weeks.
The HSE and CHO 2 remain committed to the future provision of long-stay residential care. I know the Deputy does and I assure him I and the Government do as well.
I thank the Minister for his reply and the obvious commitment from him to Ballina Hospital. As he said, it is a 62-bed unit. We want to see that maximised. It is an important step-down facility. The staff there do a wonderful job and there are many proposals on the table. I want to see them advanced. They have been there long enough to be assessed.
The Minister acknowledged during the week there is huge pressure on Mayo University Hospital at the moment. Without the district hospitals in Ballina, Belmullet and Swinford working effectively that pressure will continue. I extend once again the invitation to visit the hospital and meet the director of nursing and staff. We also need to be far more ambitious about our network of district hospitals around the country. I have previously told the Minister I see Ballina as the perfect location for something similar to a minor injuries unit. Mayo University Hospital and Sligo University Hospital are under immense pressure. We are located halfway between them and a minor injuries unit would certainly take the pressure off the two main hospitals. The space is there, the site is there, the staff are there and the willingness is as well. What we need is a commitment from the HSE nationally because regionally the HSE is invested in this. The HSE at national level needs to get on board with Ballina hospital.
I fully agree with the Deputy's assessment. As he said, Mayo University Hospital and Sligo University Hospital are fantastic hospitals but they are under pressure and need additional investment in beds, in their workforces and in diagnostics. As he also correctly said, the hospitals are only as good as the networks and the ecosystems within which they work. That is where Ballina really comes into its own. That is why we need the extra beds and the extra capacity. The biggest challenge in emergency departments now, when we look for example at the intense pressure Galway, Mayo and Sligo hospitals are under, is delayed discharge and transfer of care. Hundreds of patients are in hospital beds and have been discharged but at the moment there is nowhere to send them to. This is partly because more than 60% of nursing homes cannot currently take people in because they are within 28 days of a Covid outbreak. However, as the Deputy correctly said, much more can be done with facilities such as those in Ballina.
That is absolutely so and I look forward to the Minister progressing this. I have a question later on Belmullet Hospital in the same vein . It is a superb hospital with a fantastic standard and history of care. With the appropriate capital investment and working with local GPs in Erris it could do an awful lot more. However, HSE management at national level does not seem to get that. Estate management at national level does not seem to get the very important network of district hospitals in Ballina, Belmullet and Swinford around Mayo University Hospital. The Minister does and I look forward to progressing the development of these hospitals with him in the coming weeks - I am not even going to say months - because we need to move on the plans for Ballina and Belmullet in 2022 and no later.
I thank the Deputy. As he rightly said, though I am not sure we will get to the question, he has consistently raised the issue of Belmullet. He and I have discussed there being an active application in for Belmullet as well. I cannot pre-empt the capital appraisal but I would like to see exactly what the Deputy is advocating for, namely, more beds in Ballina, the modular unit moved on very quickly to alleviate pressure in the short term and more beds in Belmullet. I would then very much like to meet the Deputy in Belmullet and Ballina. I would like to go to these places, meet with the clinicians and ensure the required capital investment is put in place because our whole system is moving towards having patients in the model 3 and model 4 hospitals for the shortest time possible before moving them into community facilities like those in Ballina and Belmullet as quickly as possible. That requires ongoing investment.