Thursday, 27 January 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Cathaoirleach for choosing this important Commencement matter for debate. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan. I have raised this matter a number of times in the past 18 months. This is probably the third or fourth time the Minister of State has been before me. The Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, has appeared before me as well, but I have yet to meet the senior Minister in the Chamber to discuss this matter of importance to Galway and the wider west.
As the Minister of State has pointed out previously, a temporary emergency department is under construction. The situation is confusing because some people believe that it is actually the new emergency department. It is not, of course. I am told that phase 1 is scheduled for handover in April and the internal replanned area will be handed over in July. Thereafter, a planning application for the permanent emergency department will be progressed.
This situation has been ongoing for a number of years. A welcome decision was made that the new building would include full paediatric and maternity services as well as the emergency department. That was a positive move. While there have been internal and decanting work in respect of the temporary emergency department, the planning application for the emergency department has still not been lodged. I do not see why that cannot be done in conjunction with the work that is going on but instead, it seems that Saolta University Health Care Group must wait for the works to be completed.
I know that there is a process regarding the public spending code. I ask the Minister of State to confirm if that is being assessed. Has it been completed or it is with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform or the HSE estates national unit at the moment? I ask all that because it is important that that is confirmed, that permission is granted and that Saolta can progress to the lodging of the planning application.
As I have said on numerous occasions, nothing can be built without planning permission. It does not matter what the project is; planning permission must be granted. In this case, Saolta University Health Care Group has not lodged its planning application for a new emergency department in University Hospital Galway. This is vitally important.
The staff in the emergency department do Trojan work day in and day out. Also, the number of people on trolleys varies. Sometimes the hospital has the highest number of people on trolleys in the country, as it had for a long period last autumn and other times it has the second highest numbers. That is not good enough for patients, staff or those who want to visit their loved ones. Obviously people could not visit their loved ones during Covid periods or visiting opportunities were limited but things are getting back to normal now and it is not good enough for anybody that such a situation remains.
We need to give hope to people that an emergency department is definitely on its way. The most important stages are the lodging and granting of the planning application. We will still have a long way to go in terms of tenders, constructions contracts and all of that. I seek confirmation from the Minister of State on timelines, the next stages of the project and when a planning application will be lodged by Saolta University Health Care Group for an emergency department for University Hospital Galway, which is a centre of excellence for the region. I hope that he can provide some information on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, and that he will confirm dates and a timeline for this vital project.
I thank Senator Kyne for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity again to outline to the House the position regarding the new emergency department at University Hospital Galway. I will also convey his concerns to the Minister.
University Hospital Galway provides regional services for a wide range of specialties. It serves a catchment area in the region of 1 million people along the west from Donegal to north Tipperary. University Hospital Galway is a model 4 hospital that provides 24-7 acute surgery, acute medicine and critical care. This project for a new emergency department at University Hospital Galway, which is part of a larger development incorporating maternity and paediatric services, is included in the HSE's capital programme.
Approval was granted to complete a temporary extension to the emergency department, ED, to provide additional accommodation. This includes segregated waiting areas, segregated treatment areas, isolation rooms, additional resuscitation spaces and additional support accommodation to take account of requirements to treat Covid-19 patients, as well as improved infection control and prevention requirements for the ED.
The temporary emergency department extension building will be single storey and have a rooftop plant room. It will be connected to the main hospital block at the existing emergency department entrance. This project is expected to be completed in early 2022. The temporary emergency department project and associated works will also serve as an enabling works project for the proposed permanent emergency department by helping to free up the site required for the proposed new block.
The main emergency department and women's and children's block development at University Hospital Galway is a complex project and is in the early stages of design progression. The project is of significant scale and must progress through the stages outlined in the public spending code. The full accommodation scope for the entire development has been agreed following an internal HSE review and it is proposed to progress the full block as one single project.
There is no date yet for the planning application for the main building as the project is still proceeding through the initial stages of the public spending code. There are several enabling works projects to be completed on site before the main building can go ahead. On that basis, the design team has had pre-planning meetings with the local authority on two of these enabling works projects. The preliminary business case is under review with the HSE and pending board approval.
All capital development proposals, as Senators know, must progress through a number of approval stages, in line with the public spending code. The delivery of capital projects is a dynamic process and is subject to the successful completion of the various approval stages, which can impact on the timeline for delivery.
I thank the Minister of State for that response. I am afraid that it sounds like the project is going backwards as he referred to the "initial stages of the public spending code". There is still no date for the planning application to be lodged and the Minister of State referred to works that must be completed before the main building can go ahead. We know that the site must be cleared before a building can be built but a building cannot be built unless we get planning permission and we cannot get planning permission unless a planning application is lodged. It seems that this project is going backwards. The month of handover has not been confirmed. That was supposed to happen in April and it is now early 2022. When will the handover happen?
There are no timelines for this project that is of such vital importance to the people of Galway and the region and that is an absolutely frustrating situation for staff. I have heard reports that emergency department staff have resigned due to the pressures of their job and the Minister of State's reply is not going to lift their spirits or those of anyone else. The people of Galway deserve a lot better than the information that has been provided here.
I will convey Senator Kyne's concerns to the Minister, the Department and the HSE. As he knows, the project is of a huge, significant scale and it is progressing through the stages outlined in the public spending code. The preliminary business case, as I said, is under review with the HSE and pending board approval. I hope that we will get board approval as quickly as possible.
This project is part of a larger development that incorporates maternity and paediatric services. It is included in the HSE capital programme. In advance of permanent arrangements, approval was granted to complete a temporary extension to the emergency department to provide additional accommodation, which is expected to be completed in early 2022.
The main emergency department and women's and children's block development at University Hospital Galway is, as the Senator said, a complex project and it is in the early stages of design progression. While there is no date yet for the planning application for the main building, the HSE is actively engaging with the local authority as the project proceeds through the initial stages of the public spending code. Again, I will convey the concerns of the Senator to the Minister and to the Department of Health, and to see can we get all of the various stakeholders to progress the project as quickly as possible because the Senator has articulately raised his concerns. The Senator been in here many times trying to push on the project and I hope that we will push it as quickly as possible.