Seanad debates

Thursday, 5 February 2004

1:00 pm

Sheila Terry (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O'Malley, for coming to the House to deal with this motion regarding problems at James Connolly Memorial Hospital, of which I am sure he is aware. It is almost ten years since the health board and the Department of Health and Children convinced the members of Dublin County Council, as it then was, to rezone the lands at James Connolly Memorial Hospital in order that they could be sold off to generate funding for its redevelopment. That decision was taken reluctantly and money was raised which the Department was to match pound for pound, as it did. It has taken almost ten years to get to a stage where phase 1 of the hospital is built and it has cost a lot more money than was originally anticipated. The shame is that while the hospital is built and furnished, and beds and blankets are in place, we do not have a key to open the door.

On 10 December last, Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children on my behalf when the hospital would open. His reply stated that phase 1 of the hospital "is now complete with the exception of some snagging work which is being carried out by the contractors." It went on to state that "The further commissioning of this development will need to be considered by the ERHA and the Northern Area Health Board having regard to the overall level of funding available in 2004."

We hear of other areas crying out for hospitals. In this case, a furnished hospital is in place and I ask the Minister to get it opened. The excellent staff at the hospital are working in terrible conditions. Last night, as with other hospitals in Dublin, the James Connolly Memorial Hospital was overcrowded with up to 20 people on trolleys in accident and emergency whereas the new accident and emergency unit in the new hospital would greatly improve working conditions. Day cases for elective surgery are being cancelled today because of patient numbers.

Other issues arise in regard to the hospital but they relate to the fact that the matron and accident and emergency consultant have not been replaced over the past year. I must repeat what I have heard from many members of staff which is that there are concerns that the hospital will be downgraded. There is no confidence in the Minister among staff or confidence that the hospital will be upgraded and retain all its services. While a fabulous new hospital is in place and the lights are on, it is empty. I hope the Minister of State will be able to tell me why the facility is empty and when it will open. I hope there will be a positive response from him.

Tim O'Malley (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Limerick East, Progressive Democrats)
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I thank Senator Terry for raising this matter. Responsibility for the provision of services at James Connolly Memorial Hospital rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. The hospital provides acute medical and surgical services to the catchment area of Dublin north west, north Kildare and south County Meath. With a population of 256,000, it is the fastest growing catchment area in the eastern region. There are currently 348 beds at the hospital, 110 of which are extended care beds, and some 1,000 staff. Accident and emergency services are provided at the hospital on a 365 day, 24 hour basis, as part of the eastern regional network.

The major development at the hospital is being funded jointly by the Northern Area Health Board, through the sale of surplus lands, and the Department. The projected full project cost is €101.4 million. This includes €5 million approved last year to facilitate refurbishment works at the hospital, which are necessary as part of the transition process to the new hospital, and to facilitate a land transfer in line with the project development arrangements. My Department is advised that the construction of phase 1 of the new development at James Connolly Memorial Hospital is now complete and the first phase of the transition to the new development has been completed.

The coronary care unit, formerly located in unit 7, has moved to the new building together with 35 medical-cardiac beds. In addition, the therapeutic treatment centre has moved to its new location on the ground floor of the new facility. The day hospital and the rheumatology service have also transferred to the new building. I understand the cost of transferring the remaining existing services to the new hospital is approximately €5 million in a full year. These costs arise because of the additional overheads, for example, cleaning, lighting, heating, security and maintenance of additional equipment associated with the new facility. The further commissioning of the development is currently being examined by the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the Department.