Seanad debates

Tuesday, 24 May 2005

5:00 pm

Fergal Browne (Fine Gael)
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I read a report in The Irish Times last week that the Minister for Health and Children will decide on capital projects for hospitals. That took me and others by surprise and one wonders why the Health Service Executive was established because it was meant to decide the hospitals that were allocated funding.

The purpose of raising this matter on the Adjournment is simple. I want to remind the Minister of State that people in Carlow and Kilkenny need hospital facilities. I hope the Minister of State can guarantee that Carlow and Kilkenny will get their fair share of funding under the capital programme which will cover St. Luke's General Hospital in Kilkenny, the district hospital in Carlow, the Sacred Heart Hospital in Carlow, St. Columba's Hospital in Kilkenny and numerous other hospitals, including Aut Even Hospital. I hope this will not become a political slush fund to be abused by politicians because it is far too serious a matter.

Brendan Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator should not leave out Ennis.

Fergal Browne (Fine Gael)
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I look forward to the Minister of State's reply, which I hope will explain the reason the Minister is taking a hands-on approach to capital funding for hospitals. Why has she taken that responsibility away from the HSE and what steps will she take to guarantee equitable funding for hospitals throughout the country? That will ensure that areas like Carlow and Kilkenny will not be ignored because Waterford, Dublin, Cork and Limerick will gain as usual. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I remind the Senator that the purpose of raising this matter on the Adjournment was to ask the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the allocation of capital funding for hospitals in Carlow and Kilkenny.

I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I thank the Senator for raising the matter as it provides me with an opportunity to give the House an update on the situation.

The idea that the intention is to use this capital funding as some sort of slush fund could not be further from the truth. The Senator mentioned Carlow and Kilkenny specifically. I had the pleasure of visiting one of the hospitals in Kilkenny, which has taken an initiative that has not been seen, certainly to the same extent, in any other hospital. That initiative has worked extremely well and it gave me great hope for the future. Everyone was asked to play a part in that initiative and regardless of whether one was a consultant or working in any other capacity in the hospital, everyone's role was acknowledged and appreciated and the staff worked as a team.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January this year. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services, including its capital programme. The question of new capital funding commitments for hospitals in the Carlow-Kilkenny area will have to be considered in that context.

The HSE service plan for 2005 was recently approved by the Tánaiste and, as required by relevant legislation, laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The detailed capital funding programme for 2005 is currently being finalised in the context of the capital investment framework 2005-09. This process also requires that issues relating to non-capital costs and staffing implications be addressed by the HSE prior to commencing new construction on individual projects.

The Senator will be aware that a number of significant capital projects are currently under way in the Health Service Executive, south-east area. These are at various stages of planning or construction, or have recently been completed and include phases one and two at Our Lady's Hospital, Cashel, the unit for older persons at St. John's Hospital, Enniscorthy, the MRI at Waterford Regional Hospital and the extension and on-call accommodation at Wexford General Hospital. In addition, the new acute psychiatric unit at St. Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny, was commissioned recently. This much needed new facility, which will greatly enhance the provision of modern, high quality services in the region, had a capital cost in excess of €8 million.

Last year the South Eastern Health Board received approval from the Department of Health and Children for a sum of €10 million for a wide range of minor capital works throughout the region. This included investment in a number of important remedial works or re-equipping across all health care facilities, including those in the Carlow-Kilkenny region.

When the CIF is finalised, the HSE will be in a position to progress its capital programme for this year. This process involves making provision for commitments carrying forward from 2004 and initiating new contractual commitments for individual projects, in line with overall funding resources available for this year or beyond. As I have already indicated, it is a matter for the HSE to determine in the first instance capital priorities nationally, including those for Carlow and Kilkenny. I expect that approval will issue very shortly to the HSE in respect of the capital plan recently submitted by the executive, in line with the overall Health Capital Investment Framework 2005-09.