Wednesday, 11 May 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Primary Care Centres
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. The Minister of State always comes into this House with good intention and he will be delivering an answer on behalf of the HSE. As the Minister of State knows, the north Wexford area is one of the fastest growing in the country when it comes to population and that has meant there has been a lot of pressure on healthcare. There was a commitment by the HSE to develop a primary care centre there and excellent medical services are provided by the GPs in the Gorey and north Wexford area but they are under pressure because the population continues to expand. There was a clear commitment given that we would have a primary care centre and a community healthcare network put in place and indications were given 12 months ago that this was all on track and proceeding apace, that a community intervention team was being appointed and so on. There does not seem to have been much progress in the past 12 months. At the time we were told that a developer had been appointed, that plans would be laid out and that construction would take 12, 14 or 15 months. That was the answer 12 months ago and I asked for a meeting with the HSE about a month ago and followed up with emails. I did not get a response but on tabling this Commencement matter, I got an email response last night, which gave me much the same answer I was given 12 months ago. I was told that agreement has been reached for lease and construction work to commence on site and that the construction programme will take approximately 12 to 14 months but that a detailed programme would be issued by the developer prior to the commencement of work. If it will take 12 to 14 months I want to know when the developer will be on site. When is the end of that 12 to 14 months programme when we will see the primary care centre built?
In 2014, the HSE decided to close the health centre down the road in Camolin. That was greeted by a lot of annoyance from residents in the Camolin area and there were discussions with Wexford County Council about the council possibly acquiring it. The council assessed it and decided not to proceed with acquiring it at that stage. At the time, in 2018, my colleague, Councillor Joe Sullivan, raised this issue at the regional health forum in Cork and he was told that this centre would be offered to various agencies but that if the various agencies did not want it then it would go on the open market.In 2018, the HSE stated it was in the process of disposing of the property. In the email I received from the HSE yesterday in response to my queries, it gave the same answer it gave in 2018, stating it will talk to the various agencies to see if they are interested but if they are not, it will put it on the open market and dispose of it. That is basically the same answer, four years later. This is something others have been raising as well, such as Councillor Donal Kenny and Jack Redmond of the local community development association in Camolin, because they want to make use of the facility. For eight years the HSE has sat on a building that is in very good nick in the heart of Camolin village and done nothing about it and we are getting the exact same answer we got in 2018 as to what it is going to do with the property. I hope the Minister of State can use his good offices to advance the challenge with regard to both the Gorey primary care centre and the Camolin HSE building.
Before I call the Minister of State, I remind everybody of the time slots. They have four minutes each and then one minute after that. That is not aimed at Senator Byrne because he has been excellent in that regard. I welcome the Minister of State.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue and I welcome the opportunity to provide an update to the House on this very important matter. The ongoing development of both community and primary care is core to the Sláintecare vision. The Government is committed to ensuring local people are provided with the care they need as close to home as possible and have access to a wider range of health and social care services within their community. The development of primary care centres in communities such as Gorey is a practical illustration of this.
The HSE has advised that a third primary care centre for Gorey is currently under development. This centre is with a local GP practice which will extend and develop its existing building in line with HSE requirements. I am happy to be able to inform the Senator, and he may have been informed last night by email as well, that floorplans have been agreed, that planning permission has been granted and that HSE estates are currently awaiting completion of the agreement for lease. I am also advised that the HSE is currently working with the developer on the issue regarding the quantity and location of car parking being offered. Further to this, a proposal has been presented that is currently under review. All in all, this primary care centre is a very welcome development. It will act as a single point of access for health and social care delivery. The primary care team will include GPs working alongside public health nurses and other healthcare professionals, including occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech and language therapists. This team will also link in with wider community network services, including dental care and hearing specialists, amongst others.
The Senator also asked about the HSE clinic building in Camolin, County Wexford, which was formerly a health centre and is currently vacant. This is a detached building on its own site which is owned freehold by the HSE. The HSE is currently checking the title of the property with the intention of disposing of the site. The various State agencies are to be advised in the next few weeks on the pending sale in accordance the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform circular 11/15 on the protocols for the transfer and sharing of State property assets. If there is no interest from these agencies, the property will be put onto the open market.
The Senator said this issue has been ongoing for the last four years. It is simply not acceptable that four years later we are in the same situation. I will raise it within the Department and within Government. The Government is committed to continued investment in the development of primary care centres nationwide, in both urban and rural areas. We know how important they are around the country. Senator Murphy has seen it in his own area and I have seen it in mine. They take the pressure off accident and emergency departments and many other facilities and provide a very valuable service. They have a crucial role to play in enhancing and expanding capacity in the primary care sector to deliver high-quality, integrated care to people in their own communities. I am sure this new primary care centre in Gorey will be a valued community asset. This process has been far too slow. I thank the Senator for raising this issue again in the House.
I welcome that the Minister of State will pursue this matter with the HSE. There is excellent healthcare provision from the local GPs in north Wexford but we have been promised this additional primary care centre in Gorey and have been waiting a long time, and there does not seem to be progress. I would be particularly grateful for anything the Minister of State can do to expedite the matter.
On the building in Camolin, I am very concerned that the Minister of State's answer, and I appreciate that he is only reading what was given to him, states, "The HSE is currently checking the title of the property with the intention of disposing of the site." One would imagine, given that it has a freehold, that the HSE would know the detail of the title. It closed the building in 2014 and has been talking about trying to dispose of it over the last eight years. You would think that over an eight-year period the HSE would have worked out where the title is. I ask the Minister of State to expedite that in order that the community in Camolin can see that building put to good use.
I will raise that issue again. The Senator makes a lot of sense. In the eight years since 2014, that title should have been investigated. We should not be in this situation and I will raise it with the Minister. Good progress continues to be made in the development and roll-out of primary care centres and 150 are now operational. Some 12 of these opened in the last 12 months despite the challenges posed by Covid, and a further 21 are at various stages of the construction and equipping process and are expected to open in 2022. I am sure the Senator is aware that Wexford has benefited, and will continue to benefit, from our investment in primary care. In addition to the new primary care centre for Gorey that we have been discussing today, a centre in New Ross is in the early stages of planning while a primary care centre in Enniscorthy is due to become operational by the end of the third quarter of this year. These are in addition to the three Wexford primary care centres that are already operational, with one in Wexford town and two in Gorey. I am sure we can agree that these multi-purpose facilities have a key role to play in supporting the health of local communities and in transforming the way we deliver healthcare in Ireland.