Seanad debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2005

7:00 pm

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this issue and the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, for addressing it. I propose to share time with Senator Kitt.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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For the past seven years, there have been rumours about the replacement of the existing facilities at St. Brendan's Hospital, Loughrea, County Galway. In the recent past, it housed and provided facilities for some 220 patients. However, given that its buildings were old, with many narrow stairs and so on, health and safety concerns necessitated that, over the years, when patients vacated upstairs facilities, their beds were removed and not replaced. There are now some 120 patients in the hospital and the proposal is that it will, in future, provide facilities for 80 patients.

The hospital has a waiting list of 28 female patients and 25 male patients. Some of these are waiting up to 16 months for access. The physical environment of the hospital makes it difficult for the staff to deliver a quality service. Against all the odds, however, the nursing, medical and other support staff have delivered a first class service as a result of their commitment and dedication to the needs of the elderly patients. Of those elderly from neighbouring areas who have availed of the day care centre adjacent to the hospital and part of its complement of facilities, many want to remain there as full-time patients. It is sad that they cannot get such access.

When the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children visited the hospital recently, she expressed her concerns about the physical conditions and the difficulties under which the staff must work in order to maintain the quality service. She immediately requested that the plans for the hospital be sent to her as she had not seen them. This was two months ago. Action was taken last Friday in order to move the planning process forward to some degree. At what stage of planning and financing is this project and when will the work commence? This is the bottom line. As far back as 1998 we were promised a modern and comprehensive community-based hospital for the elderly in the hinterland of east County Galway with full facilities, including step down facilities, and support mechanisms in terms of staff and so on. With the exception of physiotherapy, none of these are available. There are one or two respite beds in the hospital.

The urgency of this matter cannot be emphasised enough. Senator Kitt will agree that, while health and safety was a concern of the people who worked in those conditions and allowed the situation to develop, something has gone wrong given the decrease in patient numbers from 220 to 120 without alternative accommodation for them. I want to see this situation rectified urgently.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Ulick Burke for sharing his time and the Minister of State for attending this debate. The Senator said there is a great need for beds for the elderly, to which the waiting list alone is testament. The reduction in the number of patients from 220 to 80 is significant. The Minister of State will probably say in her reply that Ballinasloe has been earmarked for another centre, perhaps a smaller one than the 80-patient unit in Loughrea.

Significant work has been done in St. Brendan's Hospital in Loughrea. A certain stigma might have attached to it in the past but everyone now speaks about the good level of care provided for the elderly there under very difficult circumstances. It was announced in the Estimates that funding was available but I do not know whether the funding was just for Loughrea or east County Galway. The Minister of State might be able to clarify the matter.

There is a waiting list and we have heard talk about two new units in Loughrea for seven years, as Senator Ulick Burke pointed out. It would be timely to start on the centre in Loughrea in the context of the current Estimates. Will Ballinasloe be included? There is a need for a number of centres in east County Galway to provide the service given in difficult times by the lay and religious at St. Brendan's Hospital.

Síle de Valera (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senators Ulick Burke and Kitt for raising this matter and welcome the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children. Significant capital funding for the health sector has been provided since the commencement of the national development plan in 2000. Total expenditure for the period 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 NDP provides considerable capital funding for 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 them in appropriate locations.

As the House will be aware, the Health Act 2004 established the Health Service Executive which was established on 1 January 2005. 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. This includes responsibility for the proposed developments at St. Brendan's Hospital, Loughrea. The HSE, western area, has stated the project planning brief for the development of a 40-bed community nursing unit in Loughrea with expansion to 80 beds was signed off on 17 November 2005. It will now go to tender for the appointment of a design team.

Approval has been granted to bring the project to the design stage. The HSE has advised that the local multidisciplinary team, which will advise on the design, has been appointed. This proposal is included as part of the HSE's capital investment framework for 2005-09. The HSE has outlined that the replacement community nursing unit will be located on the grounds of the St. Brendan's Hospital campus and will be used to facilitate the transfer of residents currently placed on the upper floors of the original building. As responsibility for the development of health services now rests with the HSE, any decisions relating to this project will be a matter for it, having regard to its overall capital funding priorities.