Seanad debates

Wednesday, 5 July 2006

9:00 pm

Michael Finucane (Fine Gael)
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At the outset I wish to read a statement by the then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, into the record. According to the statement:

The provision of an Alzheimer's unit for the hospital referred to by the Deputy is a priority development of the Mid-Western Health Board. It is included in the board's capital development programme as part of the national development plan. The board has recently written to my Department regarding the acceptance of tenders for the scheme. This matter is currently being examined in the department. I am not as yet in a position to confirm timescales for the Deputy but the matter will be dealt with as expeditiously as possible.

I received this reply when I was a Deputy in the Dáil on 7 June 2000. It is now six years later. What did the Minister mean when he stated that the matter would be dealt with as expeditiously as possible? It is disgraceful that six years later, not one block has been laid. It reflects poorly on the Minister of State who is responsible for care of the elderly. I have previously raised this matter in the House with him and the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government, which has been in power for the last six years.

I have consistently raised this issue in the Dáil and Seanad over the over the last six years. I am bitterly disappointed at the lack of progress on this project. It was agreed that a 12-bed dementia unit, which would include up to a maximum of four dedicated respite units, would be provided. The lack of such a dedicated unit causes much inconvenience to both staff and patients in St. Ita's Hospital.

Over the years, the usual retinue of successive Ministers and Ministers of State have visited St Ita's Hospital. It has been an automatic place to visit when one visits Newcastle West. The hospital has been visited by the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen. It recently paid host to the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children and the Taoiseach visited it before the last general election. It has also been visited by the Minister of State and the former Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Callely. I am sure I have left out some other Ministers and Ministers of State who visited the hospital when they visited Newcastle West or the constituency of Limerick West.

All of these politicians are aware of the importance of the provision of this unit. They give commitments and talk about how important the unit is, from which the staff draw some encouragement. However, the issue seems to fade away after any visit. It is very hard to reconcile oneself to and justify the long delay in proceeding with this project, which is regarded as vital for providing for patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease in the west Limerick area. It is not good enough to delay a project for this long and I am tired of raising this matter over the last six years. At this stage, urgent action is required. I look forward to an assurance from the Minister of State that this project will proceed very quickly.

I would like a commitment on when the project will commence and be completed. It was anticipated that the first sod would be laid before the last general election. There has been enough of a delay on this issue and urgent action is now required. I look forward to the response of the Minister of State on this matter.

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for raising this matter, as it provides me with an opportunity to outline to the Seanad the need for an Alzheimer's unit at St. Ita's Hospital, Newcastle West.

The provision of health services in County Limerick is a matter for the Health Service Executive mid-western area in the first instance. In 2000, as part of the national development plan, it was agreed that a project team would be established for the development of a ten-bed elderly mentally infirm unit at the hospital in question. The team subsequently decided that the development should be increased to a 12-bed unit. The scope of this development is in keeping with the objectives laid down in the report entitled The Years Ahead — A Policy for the Elderly and will comprise bed accommodation and ancillary facilities initially for 12 inpatients, including a maximum of four dedicated respite beds.

Provision had been made for this development within the HSE's 2006-10 capital plan. Planning permission for the proposed development has been obtained from the local planning authority and the design work has been completed. I realise that the project has not progressed as quickly as the Senator or anyone would have wished, but it will proceed. It is anticipated that construction will commence before the end of 2006. I hope the Senator will welcome this news.

Michael Finucane (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the commitment in the last line of the Minister of State's speech. On 22 June 2005, he confirmed that planning permission had been granted, the health board had submitted documentation to the Department of Health and Children requesting approval to seek tenders for construction of the unit and work would proceed. If the project does commence at the end of 2006, perhaps the right type of progress will be made. The Minister of State must agree that the six years since this project was included in the programme has been a long time.