Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Adjournment Matters. - Hospitals Building Programme.
I am pleased the Minister of State is taking this matter because he is familiar with St. Ita's Hospital, Newcastle West, which he visited on the return journey from his recent trip to Killarney. I am sure he saw the facilities there. During the past four years the hospital has also been visited by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and the Taoiseach. The Minister of State's party is familiar with the requirements of the Alzheimer's unit at Newcastle West.
St. Ita's Hospital was constructed in 1840 and was renovated in 1975. Many parts of the hospital require constant refurbishment. There is a great deal of pressure on St. Ita's in terms of coping with the elderly population in west Limerick which, potentially, could be over 7,500. Public representatives from the area are frequently contacted by people whose relatives have the advanced form of Alzheimer's disease.
The necessity for an Alzheimer's unit has been well proven and well documented by the Mid-Western Health Board over the past five years. A number of hiccups occurred in respect of the design of the new unit and money allocated by the Government was spent on refurbishment. What St. Ita's needs is a dedicated unit because, at present, doors have to be locked in certain parts of the hospital, which is unfair to people who do not have Alzheimer's and those visiting them. There is an urgent need to put the unit in place.
That staff at St. Ita's are very dedicated and they and members of the wider community are disappointed that a specialised unit has not yet been put in place. In many instances, private nursing homes can provide facilities to cater for Alzheimer's patients but the premier hospital dealing with the elderly in the mid-west region cannot do so.
I raised this matter in the Lower House on 12 December 2001 with the then Minister of State, Tom Moffatt. I had believed that progress would have been made on this issue prior to the election. I understand that a planning notice was posted recently and perhaps this is an indication of forward movement. I hope the Minister of State is in a position to provide a positive response.
I thank Senator Finucane for raising the issue of St. Ita's Hospital, Newcastle West. He is correct that I was happy to take the opportunity to visit the facility. I welcome his latter remarks because I do not follow other people, I usually set new agendas.
The provision of health services in County Limerick is a matter for the Mid-Western Health Board. It is a matter for the board to decide its priorities within the national development plan allocation it received. The Mid-Western Health Board has been notified of indicative funding of €20 million under the NDP for services for older people.
Additional funding for the development of services for older people has increased significantly since 1997 to £57 million, €72.9 million, in 2001. Additional funding of £69 million, €87 million, has been made available in 2002 for services for older people. Of this, over €7 million has been allocated to the Mid-Western Health Board.
In 2000, as part of the national development plan, it was agreed that a project team be established for the development of a ten bed elderly mentally infirm unit at St. Ita's. It has been agreed that this development should be increased to a 12 bed unit. In January 2000, a capital grant of over €500,000 was provided for the unit. A number of design issues were raised during 2000 which required careful consideration. It was agreed that the design brief would require redrafting.
The amended draft brief submitted to the Department by the board in early 2001 was approved and a suitable site identified on the grounds of St. Ita's Hospital. In 2001, a project team was established and this was followed by the appointment of a design team. In September 2002, approval was given by my Department to proceed to stage 4 – the detailed design stage, drawing up of plans, etc. – and stage 5 – preparation of bills of quantities – of the project. In addition, the board has been given approval to apply for full planning permission. As the Senator indicated, that process has already begun.
I would not like to put the costs on record because the figures are not available to me. If I had been aware of the question before coming into the House, I would have been able to do so. I will write to the Senator providing full details in that regard.
I wish to be associated with Senator Finucane on this matter. I compliment the Minister of State on his reply and the public representatives in west Limerick who have promoted this case for a number of years. We are delighted to see some progress.