Wednesday, 15 December 2004
Hospitals Building Programme.
I wish to highlight the need for the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to indicate her Department's plans for the Bon Secours hospital, formerly the Grove Hospital, in Tuam. It was purchased by the Western Health Board over five years ago and is now lying abandoned. Will she indicate whether plans submitted by the health board have been approved by her Department?
The Western Health Board bought the property when the Bon Secours group decided to pull out of Tuam. It was a fine hospital and provided wonderful service to the people of Tuam, north Galway, south Mayo and north-west Roscommon. When this issue arose, there was a clear indication that the health board, in conjunction with the then Minister, Deputy Martin, would proceed quickly to revamp and re-plan the facility in Tuam as a community hospital. The health board, of which I was a member, met the Minister in this regard, after which he bought facilities. The Bon Secours facility was closed down immediately and chains were put on the gate. The building is semi-derelict today despite the wonderful plans of the health board to remove the present structure, re-plan the site and provide other community facilities.
The local action group on various occasions, as Senator Kitt knows, said it was a pity the facilities there could not be used for out-patients, clinics and related services. That has not been done. The upkeep and maintenance by the health board must be a sizeable contract for somebody. My greatest fear is that the decision and announcement of the Minister for Health and Children will be to investigate all property and lands owned by the health board with a view to selling off any that are surplus to requirement. The Minister has failed to develop the property or give any indication that it will be developed despite the Taoiseach's visit before the election when he announced there would be a hospital in Tuam within one year of that visit. That has not happened several years down the line from that promise.
I hope to hear an answer from the Minister tonight to the effect that the extensive and wonderful plans the health board submitted to the Department will be approved and that she will indicate that whatever properties the health board and the Department have in County Galway, particularly in Tuam, are not for sale but will be developed very soon. We know of the serious shortage in the community of bed capacity and the other services provided by the private hospital in the past. The action group that requested this worked supportively with the town council, the Western Health Board and the public representatives to ensure that the Minister would purchase it on the day, as he did. That was widely welcomed and the plans were submitted to the Department but I cannot find out what has happened to them, or whether they are being accepted.
I thank Senator Ulick Burke for sharing his time. I was delighted when the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, announced he was purchasing the old Bon Secours Hospital and surrounding grounds in Tuam. It was a very particular project for the Western Health Board of which Senator Ulick Burke and I were members at the time. We fought very hard to have this property taken over and for a hospital to be built in Tuam. The application was sent to the Department in September 2002, over two years ago so we expected that we would have received an answer by now.
Many of the scares about this property were sparked when we heard reports that some of the Merlin Park lands in Galway of which the Minister is aware were to be sold. Whatever about the merits or demerits of that proposal, I could never understand the proposals to sell the lands and the hospital in Tuam, formerly the Bon Secours Hospital or "The Grove" as it is known locally.
I hope the Minister will tell us that the Department is proceeding to develop those lands. If the Hanly report means anything for community hospitals — and it is not always popular to talk about it — surely it means that Tuam would be an ideal centre for a hospital as it has the required population of over 30,000, being the catchment area of north Galway and south Mayo. This is why I strongly support the idea of the hospital. I was born in that hospital and have often said I do not want it to be the political death of me. I do not want it to go down in history as something that causes us all political grief. There is a strong desire in the community to see that hospital continue in the town of Tuam.
Following the closure by the Bon Secours Order of "The Grove" hospital in Tuam, the Western Health Board, which is responsible, in the first instance, for the provision of health services in the Tuam area, decided to build a new 50-bed community hospital on the grounds and adjoining land to replace the existing facility. This new hospital will comprise a mix of up to 30 beds for continuing care with the remaining beds made up of direct access beds, rehabilitation, convalescent, respite and palliative care beds. In line with what is generally provided in the board's district hospitals, the service will have a significant mix of multidisciplinary staff, including medical, nursing, nursing support, paramedical, as well as other complementary therapists. Coupled with this, the board envisages the Tuam hospital functioning as the hub of a comprehensive outreach service, providing homecare programmes, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, chiropody, home nursing, home help, as well as other flexible packages of care. These specialist care services will, of course, be supported by social support services such as community welfare and home advisory programmes. Further advice is being sought on the possibility of using the hospital for other health-related facilities.
The Government has made services for older people a priority and is fully committed to the development of a comprehensive health service which is capable of responding quickly, fully and effectively to the health service needs of older people. In recent years, health and social services for older people have improved, both in hospitals and in the community. Since coming into office, this Government has substantially increased the level of funding, both capital and revenue, in respect of services for older people. For example, the amount of additional revenue funding has increased from €12.7 million in 1997, to €100 million in 2003 with a further €9.5 million being allocated this year. This figure is being increased to over €15 million for 2005. This serves to demonstrate the Government's ongoing commitment to improving services for our older population.
Significant capital funding for the health sector has been provided since the commencement of the national development plan in 2000. Total expenditure for the years 2000-03 was approximately €1.7 billion. Considerable progress has been made in addressing the historical deficits in health infrastructure and improving the standards of facilities required for quality modern patient care. The national development plan provides considerable capital funding to services for older people. On a national basis, this will enable a comprehensive infrastructure of community nursing units and day care facilities to be put in place as well as the refurbishment of existing extended care facilities and the replacement of old workhouse-type accommodation. Older people deserve first class facilities and we intend to provide such facilities in appropriate locations.
The Department of Health and Children is examining the health capital programme for 2004 and beyond to ascertain what new projects can be progressed through either planning or construction stages, taking account of existing commitments and overall funding resources available. In this context my Department will continue to liaise with the Western Health Board regarding the proposed development in Tuam in the light of the board's overall capital funding priorities.