Wednesday, 13 February 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Primary Care Centres Provision
I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House. The reason I asked him to come here today was to give us an update on the proposed primary care centre for Bangor Erris. I am not sure if he has ever been to Bangor Erris, County Mayo. How would I describe it?
It is on the way into Belmullet and it is quite famous. It is also famous for the wonderful doctor we have there, namely, Dr. Miklos Penzes. He and his team provide a wonderful service to the community of Bangor. Since 2000 to 2001 we have been promised a fully equipped proper primary care centre in Erris, to be situated in Bangor. Recently there was some discussion about having it as part of the new tranche of primary care centres that were built, some of which are in Mayo in Castlebar, Westport and Claremorris. I want to know when that centre will be delivered. It is particularly pertinent now because the community is fearful of losing the existing general practitioner, GP, service, which covers a vast area of Erris and a major population. We are left in limbo as to whether the doctor, who has wonderful skills and a wonderful relationship with the community, will be serviced with a primary care centre. It would be helpful if the Minister of State could give us a date today as to when that project will be commenced. The cost overrun on national children's hospital has escalated fears about the delivery of the proposed centre. I need the HSE and the Minister to understand the urgency of having the primary care centre there. It is not right for elderly people not to have access to a proper GP service in their community. We are all dependent on having a proper GP service. That would go some way to allaying fears about the possibility of the doctor moving on. Other opportunities will be provided that will become available to doctors such as the GP in Bangor and we do not want that to happen and for us then to try to close the door after the horse has bolted is not good enough. I look forward to the Minister of State's response and to him providing some reassurance around when the primary care centre in Bangor Erris will be up and running.
I thank Senator Conway-Walsh for raising this issue. The HSE has confirmed that a needs assessment has been undertaken to determine what infrastructure is required within Bangor Erris to most effectively deliver primary care services to the local community. I am happy to advise the Senator that this exercise has found that Bangor Erris is a suitable location for the development of a primary care facility in the future. In that context, a business case is currently being prepared for consideration by the HSE's estates division, which is responsible for ensuring that appropriate infrastructure is in place when and where required and that the value of HSE's properties and facilities is maximised.
As the Senator may be aware, Bangor Erris, Belmullet and Glenamoy are all part of the Bangor Erris primary care team, which utilises local health centres to support service delivery. In this regard, there is a health centre on the grounds of the district hospital in Belmullet, while there is also a health centre in Glenamoy that has recently been refurbished. The expansion of community and primary care is at the heart of the Sláintecare vision. As Minister of State with responsibility for mental health and older people, I share the Minister for Health's commitment to ensure that people get the care they need as close to home as possible and have access to a greater range of health and social care services within the community.
In this respect, I am sure the Senator would welcome the investment in primary care in County Mayo. There are now seven operational primary care centres in the county, three of which have opened in the past 12 months. The centres are located in Achill, Ballina, Ballinrobe, Castlebar, Charlestown, Claremorris and Westport. In addition, construction is due to begin this year on another primary care centre in Ballyhaunis. This significant investment in Mayo is representative of this Government's steadfast support for the development of the primary care sector. There are now 126 primary care centres in operation across the country, 18 of which became operational in 2018. In addition, there are approximately 80 other locations where primary care infrastructure is either being developed or at advanced or early planning stages. Of these, 12 centres are expected to become operational in 2019.
We must, and will, continue to invest in the development of primary care centres across the country, in both urban and rural areas. In this way we will enhance and expand capacity in the primary care sector to deliver high-quality, integrated care to people in their own communities.
I am glad that the needs assessment has taken place but it actually took place 20 years ago. I really plead with the Minister of State to prioritise this primary care centre and to understand its urgency. If the GP in Bangor Erris leaves, it is no good to us. It is a real urgency. I ask the Minister of State to go back and speak to the HSE about this. The HSE fully understands the intricacies surrounding the matter and that we need the services in the health centre in Bangor Erris. However, the HSE needs to see a proper timeline. The vagueness of the Minister of State's response will not be reassuring to people, so I ask him to go back to the HSE again.
As for the investment in primary care, I agree that wonderful buildings have been completed but the Minister of State knows there is only one extra receptionist employed in each. The buildings need to be fully staffed and need the full technology in order to be utilised in full.
I will be asking the Minister for State for continual updates on the Bangor Erris primary care centre because we need more reassurance on it. The fact that a business case is being prepared disappoints me in a sense. I am conscious that business cases are often left on people's desks for months on end, and we do not have months. There is a real urgency to the Bangor Erris primary care centre.
I inform the House that good progress continues to be made on the development and roll-out of primary care centres, contrary to what the Senator might try to point to, with 126 now fully operational, up from 43 at the end of 2010. There has been an incremental increase over the years, with eight coming on stream in 2016, nine in 2017 and 18 last year, representing a doubling in 2018. These centres are playing a key role in delivering the vision for reform for the more effective health service underlined in Sláintecare. A further 12 primary care centres are expected to open in 2019, with at least another five to follow in 2020. Beyond that, 12 additional primary care centres are at the advanced planning stage, with operational dates to be confirmed. Mayo has benefited from significant investment, with seven centres operational and work on Ballyhaunis due to commence in the second quarter of this year. I am happy to state that Bangor Erris has been identified as a suitable location for the development of a primary care facility in the future and that there will be due consideration of the business case developed.