Seanad debates

Tuesday, 6 April 2004

5:00 pm

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Callely, who has responsibility for older people, for attending the House. I also compliment him on his excellent work since becoming a Minister of State in this Government, following on the fine work of his predecessor, Dr. Tom Moffat, who was an excellent Minister of State. He and I worked together when I was chairman of the Western Health Board between June 2001 and June 2002.

The Adjournment matter I raise relates to the development of a much needed, dedicated dementia and Alzheimer's disease unit at the Sacred Heart Hospital in Roscommon. This hospital can accommodate approximately 200 long-stay patients and currently accommodates 180 patients. I visited the hospital last Friday and saw a number of people suffering from dementia and from Alzheimer's disease.Speaking to hospital staff, I felt there was a need for a dedicated unit for those sufferers, perhaps also allowing long-stay care for them. The staff were working under extreme difficulties, because the number of people suffering from these diseases is in effect a new phenomenon in Ireland.

While I was chairman of the Western Health Board, and a member of that board, we were involved in a major refurbishment in the Sacred Heart hospital of St. Michael's ward, at a cost of €500,000. This has helped the hospital's work tremendously. The health board, with the aid of finance from the Department of Health and Children, has also carried out other refurbishment and improvements in the hospital, involving equipment, furniture and beds, and that has been very welcome. I place on record my appreciation to the director of nursing in the Sacred Heart hospital, the assistant director of nursing and all the hospital staff, who do an excellent job. We are very fortunate in having such care and attention given to our elderly in such institutions.

Currently there is concern regarding the development of a central hospital kitchen required under health and safety standards, and the Minister of State might update the House on that. As chairman of the Western Health Board I had the honour of opening a very nice day care centre, which is located at the old convent at the Sacred Heart hospital. I invite the Minister of State to Roscommon to perform the official opening of the refurbished St. Michael's ward, which was never officially opened. I would like the Minister of State to view the facilities at the hospital, after which he might be in a position to give the go-ahead for work to proceed with the 12-bed dementia unit and 24-bed long-stay Alzheimer's unit.

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank my good friend Senator Leyden for raising this matter on the Adjournment and for his kind comments. As Senator Leyden may be aware, more than 60 million people in the European Community are aged 60 and over. One in five of the population of the EU is an older citizen, and the ratio is set to rise to one in four quite rapidly. In Ireland, the expected increase in the number of older people reaching advanced old age is dramatic. It has been estimated that between 1991 and 2026, there will be a 75% increase, approximately, in the number of people aged 75 and over. Inevitably, this will give rise to an increase in the numbers of people suffering from dementia, and will present a major challenge to our health services in the coming years.

The development of services for people with Alzheimer's disease is based on the action plan for dementia published by the National Council on Ageing and Older People in 1999. Considerable progress has been made in service development since the publication of the report and in each of the years since 1999 the Department of Health and Children has provided additional funding of more than €5 million to Psychiatry of Old Age and more than €2 million to theAlzheimer Society of Ireland for services delivered. In addition, the Alzheimer Society gets a capital core grant. Carers of Alzheimer sufferers have also benefited from the €5 million we have made available in the same period, specifically for the support of carers. In addition, health boards are making progress in the provision of stand-alone dementia units. Having said that, we need to do much more for people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and ensure we have some level of adequate services in place in every region.

I thank Senator Leyden for the invitation to view the facilities of the Sacred Heart hospital, an invitation I am happy to accept. I will also be happy to open St. Michael's ward if that can be arranged. Senator Leyden's interest however is in the delivery of services, which is why he would like me to view the hospital facilities. I would like to do so, and to speak with the relevant service providers there, the matron and her staff. I will respond positively to Senator Leyden on that request and would like to respond similarly regarding the proposed dementia unit.

Plans are at an advanced stage for the selection of a team to undertake the initial design to upgrade Our Lady's ward to incorporate a 12-bed dementia unit and a 24-bed long-stay unit. The estimated cost of this project is €2.68 million, and progress will depend on the level of capital funding available to the Western Health Board and its priorities for such developments. I will very happy to drive this proposal through the Department of Health and Children.

Senator Leyden also referred to the kitchen facilities at the hospital. I understand that the Western Health Board is currently examining the feasibility of shared facilities between the Roscommon county hospital and the Sacred Heart hospital. I am not sure if the Senator or the Sacred Heart hospital will be happy with this proposal, but it might be an item we could put on the agenda when I visit the hospital. I hope that is satisfactory for the moment.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I will be delighted to make arrangements with his Department and the Western Health Board, which has responsibility at least until 1 June for the Sacred Heart hospital, its developments and invitations. I will be delighted to welcome the Minister of State to the hospital.