Tuesday, 22 November 2022
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí (Atógáil) - Leaders' Questions (Resumed)
I thank Deputy Harkin for raising the question of Sligo University Hospital. The Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, met with the consultants from the hospital yesterday. I believe it was a constructive meeting. The Government is committed to the development of regional hospitals, such as Sligo University Hospital. There has been a significant increase in the funding allocated to the hospital. I understand that over the last five years there has been an increase in funding of €30 million. I understand it has gone from approximately €130 million to €160 million. In July 2022, staffing levels stood at 1,885 whole-time equivalent staff. This was a 12.3% increase since the end of 2020, and included an increase of 71 nursing midwife whole-time equivalents. The winter plan has specific initiatives for Sligo University Hospital. Three emergency medicine consultants and one registrar have been appointed to assist with pre-admission patients. There are also additional administration staff to support referral pathways between the community and Sligo University Hospital, including three healthcare assistants, and this is just for the winter alone.
Turning to the capital projects referred to by the Deputy, various projects are in train, including additional ICU isolation rooms, a 42-bed ward block, a second CT scanner and MRI replacement and a new accidental and emergency surgical block. The accident and emergency department modular unit has been handed over and internal works in the existing accident and emergency department are complete. On the ICU isolation rooms, construction of a new four-bed unit is now complete, commissioned and handed over. The detailed design for minor capital infection control works for the remainder of the existing ICU is currently being completed. It is expected to proceed to tender in quarter 4. The new ward block extension will provide an additional 42 bed spaces and an additional shell and core area for future development. The submission for the medical bed project has been submitted. Construction must proceed to tender and this approval must be granted, but construction is intended to commence in quarter 1 of 2023. Regarding the second CT scanner and MRI replacement, I agree with the Deputy that this is required. The project has been approved. It is in the capital plan. The design team tender process is being finalised, with the appointment of consultants and the development of design to proceed this quarter.
On the accident and emergency surgical block, this major project will involve construction of a new multistorey extension to the hospital. It will consolidate theatres and provide surgical and maternity wards, a new accident and emergency department, radiology and integrated paediatric departments. A report on this project has been completed and submitted to HSE estates. A strategic assessment review must now be undertaken, as required under the public spending code. A tender to appoint a consultant to carry this out is under way. Again, it is to be completed this quarter.
I have listened to what the Taoiseach has said. He has told me about all the things that have been done. He is not responding in any way to the fact that 34 senior consultants signed an email that was absolutely incredible. The Taoiseach talked about the €30 million increase in funding to Sligo hospital. How does this compare to elsewhere? He talked about staffing increases, but he did not compare them to what is happening anywhere else. We are not at the races. After the crash, Sligo hospital lost 60 beds, which was, proportionally, far more than any other hospital. It did not get one of them back until it got three or four in the last year or two. Historically, there has been underfunding and under-resourcing. The Taoiseach mentioned the winter plan. I wrote to the HSE asking about the staff being recruited for this plan. Does the Taoiseach know what response I got? It was that the HSE is starting to recruit. I got this response a week ago. I am pleased to hear the Taoiseach mention the new surgical block. This was in place, basically, ten years ago. Does the Taoiseach know what point it was at then? Staff were then sitting down and looking at where various pieces of equipment would be located in the block. That was ten years ago, and nothing has happened in the meantime.
I hear the Deputy in respect of her concerns about Saolta being too Galway-centric but in the discussions yesterday between the Minister and the consultants, it seemed that the emergency department surgical block was the key issue. The issue from hereon in is delivery and whether we can accelerate the timeline in terms of its construction because health capital projects, by definition, tend to be slow to get going and slow to get through the process. We have had these discussions at Cabinet subcommittee level, in particular, with the Department of Health and with the HSE. There is a lot of capital work going on.
It is important in the context of what gets said that we acknowledge the progress that has been made in respect of some of the capital projects and that the CT scanner is on the way. It is a matter of the speed at which we can get that up and running and get it done because consultants are concerned that maybe the existing scanner is not fit for purpose for the long term. We, therefore, need two fully-operational CT scanners at the hospital. That is the Minister's intention. He will press the HSE to deliver this on an accelerated timeline.