Seanad debates

Wednesday, 5 July 2006

9:00 pm

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share my time with my constituency colleague and friend, Senator Daly.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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That is agreed.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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The development of a project at Ennis General Hospital is an important one for Senator Daly, myself and the people of County Clare. As the Minister of State will be aware, the hospital was awarded a project, the cost of provision of which is €20.9 million, in recent years and it is now at the various stages of progress towards construction. There appear to be some delays in its advancement. The delays are of concern to all of us and in particular to the people of County Clare. It is welcome that the project was given the green light and funding for it was sanctioned, for which I thank the Minister of State and all those involved in the Department of Health and Children. Notwithstanding that, it is incumbent on all of us to ensure this project is brought to fruition in as timely as manner as possible.

In the early stage of the timescale scheduled for the implementation and roll-out of this project, it was expected that the project team would be in a position to apply for planning permission to Ennis Town Council around the end of June of this year. Unfortunately, that did not happen. I understand there is a phase two report, which the HSE indicated to Senator Daly and me last week would be signed without delay, but up until yesterday no signature was appended to that document and that has slowed down progress on the project. Notwithstanding that, difficulties have been associated with the various phases. There seems to be a sequential approach to dealing with the various stages rather than carrying out some of the work in parallel.

I am not a project management expert and I do not propose to lecture the HSE on how it should do its work but it seems ludicrous that from the time it obtains a signature to this document it will take another seven or eight weeks to prepare the more detailed design work necessary for the planning application. That work should be done now while the HSE is waiting for the document to be signed. I understand from the people involved that no further resources can be committed to the consultants until such time as this signature is obtained.

This delay is of particular concern to those of us who deal with the people of the County Clare on a daily basis. There are those who say the project will never take off or be completed. It is difficult on an ongoing basis to try to prove the opposite will be the case. It is important that the necessary steps are taken, that the timescales set for work are met and that the necessary impetus exists in the HSE to deliver this project without delay.

It is critical that we have the kind of medical facilities that the county needs. The population in the county is increasing and we need those medical facilities as soon as possible. We also need to ensure there is a continuation of the 24-hour accident and emergency service, which is working extremely well.

Brendan Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Dooley for sharing his time. I also thank the Minister of State for coming into the House to address this thorny issue. He will be fully aware from his several visits to County Clare of the urgency to provide this project and the necessity to ensure that the planning process for it is expedited. The funding for the project was set aside and ring-fenced a number of years ago. Members of the public were assured by Ministers and the Taoiseach that it will proceed.

I am not happy that, for whatever bureaucratic reasons, the project has not proceeded to the planning application stage. There are a number of stages in the process and people, especially the community in County Clare, who are keen to see this project built find that frustrating. It is also frustrating for the medical personnel in the hospital, the nursing staff and the patients who are waiting to see work on this project commence. Various stages of the process have been delayed by bureaucratic requirements, which are difficult to explain to members of the public.

We would like the Minister of State to give an assurance tonight that there will be no further undue delay in getting this project under way. We would also like him to give a direction to expedite the plans in order that it will be possible to proceed with application for planning permission, a decision on which will take some time to come through. We need to see progress in getting this valuable project under way and the people of County Clare need to be assured that their health will be protected by the provision of an adequate hospital facility in Ennis for the county.

The Minister of State is also aware there is an ongoing issue in respect of a CAT scanner at the hospital and that there was a proposal to provide the hospital with a second-hand scanner. Administrators and staff at the hospital are not satisfied with this offer and want a modern efficient CAT scanning arrangement put in place. I understand that some funding was provided in the Estimates this year for this purpose and Senator Dooley and I would like to see the matter expedited. I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and hope that he will be able to shed some light on the subject.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senators Dooley and Daly for raising this matter on the Adjournment this evening. I had the pleasure of visiting the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, Ennis in the recent past and I am very much aware of the support both Members have given to this project. I will be taking the Adjournment on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children.

The Tánaiste approved the Health Service Executive capital plan for 2006 in May this year. The plan provides for €555.5 million spending on approximately 400 individual projects. This highlights the Government's commitment to a very high level of public capital investment in our health services. It is part of our €3 billion health capital investment framework for the years 2005-09. With prudent management of our strong economy and reform in the way we use our resources, the Government intends to continue a high level of capital investment in the health services.

The provision of services at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, Ennis, is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. Significant developments and enhancement of services at the hospital have taken place over the past few years, including the commencement of a cardiology service, additional consultant appointments in anaesthesia and surgery, additional vascular day surgery, outreach clinics in Kilrush and enhancements to the accident and emergency service, which include the appointment of dedicated doctors to the unit on a 24-hour basis and the involvement of an accident and emergency consultant on a sessional basis. The Health Service Executive has initiated an independent review of all acute hospital services in the mid west region and how they can be developed in accordance with best practice. This review is to be completed by the year end, following which findings will be published. The Government is committed to developing the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, Ennis. In this context, the former Minister for Health and Children approved the establishment of a project team to prepare detailed briefs for identified priority developments at the hospital so that the long-term requirements of the catchment area can be addressed.

As with all major hospital developments, the development of the hospital at Ennis will be carried out on a phased basis. The priority areas for development in phase 1A include an upgrade of wards, the accident and emergency department, the radiology department, the outpatients department, the intensive care unit, the concourse and a general infrastructure upgrade. The priority developments identified will cost in excess of €20 million to build.

I have been informed that the design team is currently preparing detailed drawings of the developments and hopes to be in a position to submit the planning application soon. Additional work is also taking place to ensure the proposed developments are compliant with recent design guidelines in respect of the control of infection in hospitals. I will take up the issue of the CAT scanner with the Health Service Executive and get back to the Senators as soon as I receive news on it.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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I recognise that the Minister of State is representing the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children here tonight and that, to some extent, it is difficult to provide information because it is coming from the Health Service Executive. However, I am very disappointed that this answer was the best he could provide. Much of the information in his answer is already in the public domain. Only the last few lines deal with the situation and at best, the Health Service Executive can tell the Minister of State that the design team is currently preparing detailed drawings. The reality is that the team is not preparing these drawings. It is not in a position to do so because it has not received the signature from the Health Service Executive's hospital section to allow it to produce the detailed drawings. It is awaiting this signature.

It is a very difficult situation. We are trying to move ahead with this project and, unfortunately, somebody somewhere in the bowels of the Health Service Executive is not proceeding with or delivering on this project in line with best practice. Such a state of affairs is unacceptable. I am aware of the Minister of State's commitment to the project and to the care of elderly people in particular, the way in which he has managed to deal with these situations in County Clare and the significant amount of money he has provided to the elderly care section. However, in respect of the acute hospital section, which is outside the Minister of State's control and remit, it is disgraceful that this situation can be allowed to continue. Incorrect information is provided to the Minister of State and does not allow for the completion of this project in a timely manner. I thank the Minister of State for his delivery.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I am alarmed by what Senator Dooley has said. At the same time, I respect his comments very much. The provision of services at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, Ennis is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. It is on the basis of information collected from it that I replied to the Senators in the fashion I did. I have been informed that the design team is currently preparing the detailed drawings of the developments and hopes to be in a position to submit the planning application soon. I will make further enquiries about the matter tomorrow to check the veracity of what I have said here because I have no intention of giving Senators anything other than the true position. I will get back to the Senators on the matter.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State.