Seanad debates

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

7:00 pm

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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I welcome this opportunity to raise this matter. It relates to the replacement of the existing St. Vincent's District Hospital on the grounds of St. Joseph's Hospital in Dungarvan, County Waterford with a new 32-bed community hospital, providing GP access beds, convalescent, respite and terminal care and short-term accommodation for dependent young chronically ill people. This new unit is to be focused on the provision of non-acute services for the community and is to complement the services of the acute general hospital.

The building has been completed for more than two months. It is awaiting the fitting out of beds, oxygen equipment and associated health care equipment. The 32-bed unit will comprise eight beds for GP acute admissions, eight beds for respite care, three beds for palliative care, three beds for young chronically sick people and ten beds for short-term convalescing care.

This unit is very much awaited in west Waterford. The projections for elderly care provision in the country, not to mind in Waterford, are increasing and will pose an increasing demand on State resources in the coming years. St. Bridget's ward in St. Patrick's Hospital in Waterford city, which can accommodate 19 people, is due to close. A new 50-bed unit is awaited in that city.

I hope the Minister of State will have good news as to when we can expect this new unit at St. Vincent's to open. It is great that the building has been completed but it would be a shame if it were left idle for any longer than is necessary. It is important that it is fitted out as soon as possible to enable patients to be admitted and cared for, as was expected when the investment was made in this hospital. I await the Minister of State's response.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I thank the Senator for raising this issue as it provides me with an opportunity to re-affirm the Government's commitment to developing community based services at a local level.

Government policy in regard to older people is to support people to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. Where this is not feasible, the health service supports access to quality long-term residential care where this is appropriate. This policy approach is renewed and developed in the current partnership agreement, Towards 2016. The Government's objective of the continued development of community-based services for older persons is reflected in the funding provided in recent times. Since 2006, over €200 million in additional investment has been provided to develop community care services.

As the Senator is aware, the Health Act 2004 provides the Health Service Executive with responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services. As a statutory body, the provision of these services, including progressing community hospitals at local level, is therefore an operational matter for the executive. The HSE is committed through its national service and capital plans to deliver services through the use of its Vote, which is provided by the Oireachtas.

In Dungarvan, construction has just been completed at the community hospital and the executive recently took charge of the building. The facility includes a new 32-bed unit. Some eight of these are additional beds and the other 24 will be replacement beds. In addition, there will be a 15-place day hospital. The new building will replace the existing St Vincent's District Hospital for older people and will provide GP access beds, convalescent, respite and terminal care and short-term accommodation for dependent, chronically ill young patients. Its role will be focused on providing non-acute services to complement those of the general hospital. The community day hospital will provide outpatient services for older persons. The intention in this regard is to enable older people to continue to live at home and avoid hospital admission. The overall capital cost of this development is approximately €12 million.

In light of the current financial difficulties generally, however, it will be a matter for the HSE to progress the equipping phase as part of its agreed capital programme for 2009 and beyond. This would have to take account of priorities determined nationally by the executive, including decisions in respect of new community facilities coming on stream. Such initiatives must be in line with agreed capital envelopes and must identify any additional revenue or staffing implications arising from a particular project.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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I am disappointed that a commitment has not been provided in respect of the opening of the unit. A major investment has already been made in the context of the unit's construction. This again displays the lack of joined-up thinking within the HSE. There is a lack of co-ordination within the executive in the context of budgets. The building section has already overseen the construction of the unit but it does not appear that funding will be provided in respect of its being fitted out. There is no logic to this and it highlights the difficulty with inflexible bureaucratic systems such as those employed by the HSE.

I urge the Minister of State to urge the Minister for Health and Children to use her good offices to ensure the unit will be opened as soon as possible. Delivery is what it all boils down to in government. There is no point in initiating projects unless then can ultimately be delivered. We are almost there in respect of the project in question. It is a shame the elderly people of Waterford will lose out because the unit cannot be opened on foot of a lack of joined-up thinking. I again urge the Minister of State to raise this matter with the Minister for Health and Children on their behalf.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I will ensure that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and the HSE are made aware of the Senator's contribution.