Thursday, 6 October 2016
I welcome the Minister and thank him for coming to the House. I have not spoken to him about this issue in the Seanad, but the Minister of State has been here.
The issue I am raising is the transfer of lands for the redevelopment of the national rehabilitation service facility on Rochestown Avenue in Dún Laoghaire, in respect of which there is huge expectation, as there have been three false starts. There appear, however, to be a number of complications. I am a former member of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council which was involved in rezoning a substantial strip of land to facilitate the development of neighbouring facilities and the hospital. This increased the value of the land and there was an expectation that some of it would be sold and part of the money ring-fenced for the facility. There now appears to be a suggestion there were difficulties with the religious order in question - the Sisters of Mercy. I acknowledge the enormous work done by the Sisters of Mercy, the board of management of the hospital and the doctors and staff at every level who face enormous difficulties in their work. The place I took the time to visit two weeks ago is unfit for purpose. It is a disgrace and an indictment of the health service.
I am reliably advised that more than 200 patients in acute beds throughout the country are waiting to get into the hospital. I also understand there is a waiting list of in excess of 80 patients to access day services in the facility. This is the national rehabilitation hospital. The service is stretched, but the new facility will not be what it was originally meant to be. It was announced with great fanfare by the previous Government. The former Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, was present, as was former Deputy Eamon Gilmore, to announce great plans for the place. I understand, however, that there were setbacks and financial considerations which limited the scope of the development.
We need to go back in time slightly. I do not want to give a history lesson, but we know from documents that in 1961 a trust was set up with the then health authorities, the Sisters of Mercy and the facility. The facility was to be used entirely to provide rehabilitation services. Will the Minister look at the conditions under which the trust was established to see how they affected the lands?Has there been any progress since the previous Minister was in here in sorting out the land issue? We know that it was covered in a number of national papers during the summer. There was confirmation from various elements of this project that there were difficulties. There is no doubt that there are difficulties. I am more interested in hearing solutions and, more than anything, hearing when this project is actually going to happen. I thank the Minister for coming to the House and I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this very important matter. I know he has a long-standing interest in, and knowledge of, it from his time on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. This is a project of major importance. It is one of the reasons I wanted to be here myself to deal with this matter. We need to see the development of the National Rehabilitation Hospital, NRH. I welcome the opportunity Senator Boyhan has provided me with to outline the current position with regard to this major capital development. I agree with his analysis of the situation that while there is currently incredible care, attention and amazing patient outcomes in that hospital that are really benefitting people, the current building is simply not fit for purpose. It is not fair to patients or to the staff.
I am pleased to advise the Senator that the HSE has informed me that it has instructed its solicitors on the transfer of lands at the NRH campus. The HSE has indicated to me that the transfer of lands could be completed by year end. The current status of the project is as follows. Procurement of the works contractor has commenced. Submissions have been received from interested contractors and these are currently being evaluated. The selected contractors will be invited to tender next month, November 2016, and it would be expected that the completed tenders should be returned in January 2017. Following evaluation of these tenders it is projected that construction will commence in quarter 1 of next year. Some enabling works, as the Senator will probably be aware from his visit there, have been contracted separately and will commence in quarter four of this year.
I am delighted to hear the Minister say he is going to visit the NRH. I really think it would be helpful. It would add impetus if he could visit in the next few months, although I know that he is a busy Minister. I have two issues. We know that the congregation that owns this property is a signatory to an indemnity scheme under the Residential Institutions Redress Board and has offered lands. It is one of a number of religious orders that made offers of lands under the Conference of Religious of Ireland and an agreement was signed by its superior general, of which I have a copy on my desk. I ask the Minister to raise with this congregation its moral obligations to surrender or hand over lands to the State as per an agreement with the State. This is a very important issue.
I do not believe it is right or proper that any land surrounding this hospital is sold. The Minister clearly identified in his own report to us that all we are talking about is a new 120 replacement bed ward. There is no additional capacity being provided. There is a suggestion locally that some of this land may be up for sale. That leads me to my final point. I ask the Minister to investigate a trust that was established in the early 1960s, under this religious congregation and the health authorities, in terms of its commitment. Within the kernel of that trust and the commitments under the Residential Institutions Redress Board, I think the Minister will find that there are opportunities for the State and for the hospital and, ultimately, to have a state-of-the-facility that will not cost the State as much as the Minister might think.
I will take Senator Boyhan up on his invitation to visit the NRH. It is something I have wanted to do for a while. I have been there in a personal rather than an official capacity on a number of occasions but I would welcome the opportunity to officially visit and meet with staff, management and patients there. I will arrange for that to happen in the coming weeks. Until I have established the facts, it is not something on which I wish to comment on the record but the point the Senator made about the offer of lands and the trust is a very important one. To be very clear, I expect any organisation that has signed an agreement to provide lands to absolutely fulfil that agreement to the letter and the spirit of it. I will ask the HSE to examine it and I will revert to the Senator on that.
The point the Senator makes is fair. What we are doing is progressing the development of the NRH. However, this should not be the end of the plans to develop. There is significant potential and scope to do more. My priority is to get on with the process of putting in place a 120 replacement bed ward block which will provide much better facilities for the staff and the patients. It will lead to better patient outcomes and further dignity for patients who spend an awful lot of time there and deserve a much more modern fit-for-purpose building. It will also provide a sports hall, a hydrotherapy unit and an ability to provide support therapies from a paediatric rehabilitation position that are not currently supplied.
I agree with the Deputy that this is a major capital project and we need to get it under way. I have outlined to the House the timeline for that. We then need to be more ambitious as well and ask, "What next?". This hospital carries out work that transforms lives and gives people back their lives. It is a project that we should constantly be adding to. I see this capital project as a very important step but not the finality in terms of the potential of the hospital.