Wednesday, 26 June 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Primary Care Centres Provision
I welcome Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, and thank him for his courtesy in attending the House. The issue before us is a very important one concerning the provision of a primary care centre in Douglas. Given the importance we, as a Government, place on primary care in our health policy, I hope the Government will prioritise the location of a primary care centre in Douglas. There are many suitable locations in this area and the success of other such centres, such as in Carrigaline and in other parts of the city, underscores the importance and need for a primary care centre in Douglas. We have had a number of briefings with the HSE, which highlighted its role in primary care. It is an opportune time to deliver a primary care centre in Douglas with, I might add, a daycare centre for the elderly, but that is a different matter.
A national needs assessment was conducted and identified the need for primary care centres in many parts of the city but, in particular, Bishopstown, Togher and Douglas. I hope that today we will get a clear indication from the HSE and the Government that this matter is a priority and that this will be the beginning of the journey to having a primary care centre located in Douglas. As the Minister of State, the Cathaoirleach, Members of the House and those watching the proceedings at home know, we are now living in an expanded Cork city council area, and Douglas has become part of Cork city. This is, therefore, an opportune time to promote the establishment of a primary care centre in Douglas. Douglas is a centre of population which is crying out for the location of a primary care centre. Confusion surrounds the plans and proposals for the primary care centre but we now have an opportunity to bring clarity and certainty and to remove the confusion around the primary care centre.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, for being here and I commend him on the work he is doing in his brief. He is a very progressive and proactive Minister of State. I hope that today we will see the beginning of a new chapter and a good news story for Douglas.
I thank Senator Buttimer for his kind words. As the Senator may be aware, the HSE has responsibility for the provision of primary care centres and other primary care facilities. I am happy to update Senator Buttimer on work being undertaken on the potential provision of a primary care centre in Douglas.
I understand previous efforts by the HSE to secure a primary care centre in the area have proved unsuccessful because of the high cost of suitable sites for developers. However, I am pleased to be able to advise the Senator that Douglas has been included in a recent advertisement by the HSE seeking expressions of interest from developers for the next tranche of 47 centres to be delivered under the operational lease model. This advertisement was published on 3 May and interested parties had up to the 31 May to make submissions. I understand that all bids have now been submitted to HSE estates centrally and that they are currently being compiled. The bids will issue shortly from estates central office for local assessment by the relevant estates offices in conjunction with local primary care staff.
There are a number of distinct phases to be gone through under the operational lease model before a centre can be delivered. After the HSE selects the preferred bidder based on submissions received, a letter of intent issues to that bidder who must then satisfy a number of requirements. Among other things, the bidder must enter into an agreement with GPs to co-locate at the site; provide evidence of ownership or interest in the site; obtain planning permission; and provide evidence that financing for the development is in place. Once these conditions have been satisfied, the HSE signs an agreement for lease with the relevant developer. The HSE will lease the accommodation for the facility which is built to the HSE's specification.
In the case of Douglas, subject to bids to an acceptable level being submitted, the HSE will issue a letter of intent and the process I have just outlined will begin. However, it is important to note that issues can arise during this process, and there is a risk that delivery of a given centre may not be able to proceed for any one of a number of reasons - for example, where planning may be refused or where GPs do not indicate an interest in co-locating. The HSE has informed me that all other options for developing a primary care centre in Douglas have been explored but that, regrettably, nothing suitable has been identified and the recent advertisement for expressions of interest is the best way forward. I am advised that, with the exception of community nurses and the home support office, there is no accommodation for other community services in Douglas and that clients must travel to Cork city centre or the nearby Blackrock Hall primary care centre. As a result, the case for developing a centre in Douglas is clear and fully accepted. It would serve a population of approximately 20,000 people and offer services at a single site. This means that people would no longer have to travel to different places for different services, which would save considerable time and expense. Such a centre would undoubtedly enhance and expand capacity in the community sector in Douglas, enabling us to deliver high-quality, integrated care to people in the locality and on the vision for a reformed health service set out under Sláintecare, namely, "the right care, in the right place, at the right time". It is for these reasons that I very much hope that the recent expression of interest for Douglas will generate a positive response.
I welcome the Minister of State's comments and the expression of interest. As he noted, there is now a clear need for a primary centre to be located in Douglas, where there is no accommodation for other community services. I hope the matter will be progressed today.
As I outlined, a process is under way. At national level, it is clear that the future direction of primary care services will be guided by Sláintecare. We are moving in the right direction by investing in primary care infrastructure, while the expansion of primary care staffing and services was prioritised in the previous Estimates process and the HSE's national service planning. Overall funding for primary care was increased by more than €50 million, which will enable a range of measures to be advanced, including recruitment of additional nursing and therapy staff. I am sure the city and county of Cork will benefit appropriately as these staff are recruited.
Although concerns will always be raised about specific locations, we must not lose sight of the fact that we continue to make good progress in the development and roll-out of primary care centres. There are now 127 such centres, 18 of which became operational in 2018. While I appreciate the Senator's interest in Douglas, I am sure he will be happy to hear that 12 of the operational facilities are in County Cork, as are three of the nine centres expected to open this year, at Carrigtwohill, Bantry and Newmarket. It is also expected that the Beara and Clonakilty centres will become operational in 2020, while a further eight locations are at various stages of planning.
I reiterate that I hope the latest development round will be successful in attracting developer interest to enable Douglas to join the list. I thank the Senator for putting focus on the matter.