Tuesday, 11 December 2018
I was shocked last week to learn that the general manager of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital has announced her intention to change the name of the hospital. A notice sent to some staff last week suggests that the dropping of the name of this institution, which is more than 60 years old, is a fait accompli. There has been no consultation worth the name. It seems a decision is being handed down by a public official who has forgotten that public servants are accountable not just to their staff but also to the wider community, just as the Minister of State and I are.
For all my public life I have fought to separate church and State, whether in the campaigns to repeal the eighth amendment and for marriage equality or in fighting for pluralism and greater tolerance in this country. I assure the Minister of State that I have the scars on my back from those campaigns, which were far from politically popular or indeed profitable until recently. As a real pluralist, the name of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital does not offend me. The notion that we dispense with it and, as a consequence, the link to our local hospital's founders does not sit comfortably with me. This hospital was built, as the Minister of State might know, by the Medical Missionaries of Mary and Mother Mary Martin. Its bricks were financed by the people of Drogheda. There would be no hospital in Drogheda were it not for the vision of the Medical Missionaries of Mary. This is an historical fact that cannot just be airbrushed out in a rebranding campaign. One need not be a practising Catholic to understand and appreciate the abiding legacy of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, and thankfully there is no longer a Roman Catholic ethos in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. That has not been the case since the hospital transferred to State ownership through the North Eastern Health Board back in 1997, but that legacy, regardless of whether one agrees with the founders' religious perspective, ought to be honoured and the name of the hospital should remain. It is part of our identity as Drogheda people and part of the town's social and historical fabric. Will the Minister of State apprise me of who gets to make the final decision on this issue, in other words, who has the authority to do that in law? Is it the general manager, the board of the RCSI hospital group or the HSE, or is there a function for the Department of Health in this matter?
I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. I thank the Senator for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to provide an update to the House regarding Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital was originally opened by the Medical Missionaries of Mary as the International Missionary Training Hospital in 1957 and was transferred to the North Eastern Health Board in 1997. The hospital is currently owned and run as a statutory hospital by the HSE. Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital is a 370-bed acute general hospital serving the local community in the north east. Services include an emergency department, an acute medical assessment unit, Louth-Meath paediatric services and the regional trauma service.
Recent media reports have suggested that the hospital is considering changing its name. It has also been reported that the general manager of the hospital wrote to staff members recently seeking their views on potential names. The Department of Health has sought a full update on this matter from the HSE. One of the suggested names was Drogheda university hospital. The Senator may wish to be aware that use of the term "university" is regulated by section 52 of the Universities Act. The Companies Registration Office will not register any company wishing to use the term "university" without authorisation from the Department of Education and Skills.Hospitals in the RCSI hospital group, including Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, are not referred to as university hospitals because the RCSI is not a university.
As part of investment in and reform of health services, a phased major capital infrastructural project is taking place at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. The project includes the provision of additional beds and theatre capacity, as well as the expanded emergency department. The new emergency department which will be located on the ground floor of the hospital will be completed and available to open early in 2019. The HSE has advised that some work remains to be completed in the old emergency department to allow for the installation of a new paediatric emergency department and an extension of radiology services. It anticipates that the full extension will be ready in 2019. Additional bed capacity in the hospital is also expected to be made available early in 2019.
Further decisions on the name of the hospital will be considered by the HSE and the Department of Health and take account of the wishes of staff and the population served by the hospital.
I thank the Minister of State for her reply. She was incorrect to suggest this issue had only been raised in recent media reports. A decision was taken by the general manager of the hospital who stated in an email to senior staff that it was her intention to change the name of the hospital. It is extremely high-handed and arrogant for a public official to make that decision without consultation. It was almost presented as a fait accompli. Three options from an unknown source were put forward, namely, Drogheda regional hospital, Drogheda general hospital and Drogheda university hospital. The Minister of State has correctly pointed out that the RCSI does not have university status in Ireland. It can market itself as a university for the purposes of attracting students from abroad, but it does not have that legal status in Ireland. I have tabled an amendment to the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018 which would allow it to describe itself as a university in Ireland.
In this case, the general manager of the hospital jumped the gun, although I do not wish to personalise the matter. There is very little public support in Drogheda for the proposal. Perhaps a compromise might be reached. For example, the name of Mother Mary Martin might be more formally associated with the hospital. There is no doubt that if a new publicly funded hospital was being developed on a greenfield site, its name would, correctly, not have religious associations. I believe in a pluralist, tolerant, secular republic and that there should not be religious overtones, particularly where State funding is provided. However, in this case, changing the name of the hospital would rejects its history and the reality that it was founded by the Medical Missionaries of Mary. We are proud of their association with Drogheda and that legacy should be honoured because in a few short years very few members of the order will remain. We should respect and honour our history and that legacy.
I thank the Senator. I fully agree with him. A decision by hospital management to change the name of the hospital should have been preceded by consultation with staff and the local community. I fully agree with the Senator on the ethos of hospitals. It is not a name that makes a hospital but the people who work in it. That said, many hospitals were founded by missionary sisters or other religious orders which should not be blamed for all that has happened in the history of religion in this country. I will convey the Senator's concerns to the Minister, Deputy Harris, and ask him to contact the Senator about the intention to change the name of the hospital without consultation.