Seanad debates

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Hospital Facilities

10:30 am

Photo of Mary FitzpatrickMary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh Gníomhach. I thank the Minister of State for coming in to respond to my Commencement matter which seeks a date by which a team will be appointed for the design of a critical care wing for the Rotunda Hospital on Parnell Square. The Rotunda is the world's oldest maternity hospital. It dates from 1745. More than 8,000 babies a year are delivered there. One in six of all babies in the country is born there. One in four of all premature neonatal babies is born there. There has been a 10% increase in demand at the hospital over the past year. It is a hugely important health institution for women, children and families of the north inner city but also for the nation.

The Rotunda receives approximately 500 gynaecological referrals each month and there is a waiting list of more than 3,000 at the moment. It is a health resource of huge importance to women and children. As I said some of the buildings date from the 1700s. The hospital is challenged to deliver 21st century healthcare in 18th century built infrastructure. HIQA has done inspections going back years that indicate the building is out of date, old, cramped and not fit for purpose. In fact, in places it is potentially dangerous.

This issue has been well recognised for a number of years, dating back to 2018. There have been reports done.The most cost-effective, cost-beneficial and expedient solution is to develop a critical care wing on the west side of Parnell Square. The requirement went out to tender earlier this year. I understand that that tender process has been successfully completed. I am hoping that the Minister of State can advise the House today on when the design team will be announced.

I will also acknowledge, and we all know, that our State has a very poor history in women's health. That is something the current Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, the Minister of State and everybody in government are making great strides in changing. The State's approach to women's health is changing with a commitment that has never been previously made to women's health, including the establishment of the women's health task force, the commitment to establish menopause clinics, free contraception and a fully funded maternity strategy. I commend the Minister of State and the Government on those real changes that are being made in the State's approach to women's health, but we need to do more. We need to continue the great changes that have already been made. I hope the Minister of State can advise us as to when a design team will be announced for the design of a new critical care wing for the Rotunda Hospital.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for raising this issue and for giving me the opportunity to outline to the House the position regarding the Rotunda Hospital.

The National Development Plan 2021-2030, launched on 4 October 2021, provides a total five-year allocation, to 2025, of €5.657 billion to the Department of Health. This includes funding towards projects provided for in the capital plan, such as the critical care wing at the Rotunda Hospital.

It is acknowledged that there is a need to address the highest infrastructural risk and capacity issues at the existing hospital at Parnell Square on a prioritised basis. There has been engagement between the Department of Health, the HSE and the Rotunda to clarify the scope and extent of the development needed to resolve patient safety risks arising at the hospital from infrastructural issues. Capital funding has been provided to the hospital over recent years to help it to manage its estate, together with appropriate allocations for equipment replacement. Last year, funding was provided to assist with Covid-related emergency works. Some €5 million has been provided over 2020-21 for redevelopment works to sustain a modern foetal assessment unit and a neonatal intensive care unit, together with a new emergency theatre and delivery suite.

As required under the public spending code, the hospital has submitted a business case in support of a proposed critical care wing, which is under consideration by the HSE. It was agreed earlier this year in a meeting between the hospital, the HSE and the RCSI Hospitals Group, to initiate the process of design team recruitment to support these necessary interim works pending co-location to Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown. The evaluation of the recently received design team tender documentation with respect to the new critical care wing has been concluded. The successful and unsuccessful applicants have been identified and notified following a recent procurement process.

As the Senator knows, as is normal for a capital project of this scale, approval to formally appoint a design team will be subject to the normal health sector approvals processes in line with requirements under the public spending code. In the meantime, there continues to be ongoing and active engagement between the HSE and the Rotunda Hospital refining key aspects of the project.

Photo of Mary FitzpatrickMary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I fully acknowledge and value the commitment the Government and the Minister of State have given to the Rotunda. I also acknowledge the significant funding that has already been provided but I am disappointed with his reply. It is very disappointing that we are at the end of this year without a design team being announced. This tender process commenced at the start of this year and engaged not just the hospital, the HSE and staff within the Department, but external private companies that engaged in the tendering process and that have been told whether they have been successful or unsuccessful. I do not understand the inertia or how long the health sector approval process will take. How long is it? Is it a piece of string? It is not any way for the State to conduct its business.

Everybody and every business has been under pressure during the Covid pandemic. When organisations respond to the State's request to produce a tender, they do so in good faith and they expect to be responded to and advised in a prompt manner. Apart from them, the women of Dublin and our country deserve better. I urge the Minister of State to go back to the Department of Health and ask its officials to make a decision on this. They know who the successful tender applicants were. They should make a decision and make it public. We need to move on with this without any further delay.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for her concerns, which I will bring to the Department to try to make this decision as quickly as possible. I understand there continues to be ongoing and active engagement with the Rotunda Hospital refining key aspects of the project. As the Senator knows, again, all capital development proposals must progress through a number of approval stages in line with the public spending code, including detailed appraisal, planning, design and procurement before a firm timeline or funding requirement can be established.

Approvals must be received for each individual stage to ensure that the proposal delivers value for money, remains affordable and that sufficient funding is available to fund the project to completion, including equipping and commissioning status. The development of capital projects is a dynamic process and is subject to a number of key considerations, including service prioritisation, clarification of scope, determination of affordability, as well as the successful completion of the various capital project approval stages, which can impact on the timeline for delivery.

I hear what the Senator said. I will bring it back to the Minister and the Department to try to get this progressed as quickly as possible.