Adjournment Matter. - Hospitals Building Programme.

Wednesday, 4 April 2001

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 166 No. 2

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Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn Zoom on Camillus Glynn I wish to share my time with Senator Cassidy.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn Zoom on Camillus Glynn The Minister of State will recall that I raised this matter on the Adjournment last year. It indicates the concerns I and members of the Midland Health Board have about the completion of Phase 2B of Longford-Westmeath General Hospital in Mullingar. This project is especially important not only to the Mullingar and north Westmeath areas but also to County Longford. The current position is having a serious effect, especially on surgical beds. There are 57 official medical beds in the hospital and at the beginning of March this year, the lowest number of medical patients had been 75 and the highest had been 114. On eight days there were more than 100 medical patients, while the average number was 95 beds. It can be appreciated that in such [201] a situation, medical emergencies occupy surgical beds on a regular basis and elective gynaecology beds to a lesser extent.

The shell of Phase 2B exists and there is an expectation among the public in the north Westmeath and Longford areas which has led to anger that the project is not up and running. We appreciate and are grateful for the marvellous funding we have received from the Government. We are especially grateful to the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Cowen, who gave us the funding to commission Phase 2A. However, time moves on and we cannot sit on our laurels. Much more remains to be done.

The Phase 2B brief contains an acute psychiatric admission unit, medical assessment unit, operating department, pathology department, day surgery, palliative care department, on-call accommodation, staff changing facilities and an administration department. Additional departments were requested for inclusion in Phase 2B by the project team and subsequently by the Midland Health Board of which I am honoured to be a member, with my colleague, Senator Cassidy. We have asked the Minister and the Department to consider providing what the brief contains.

The existing number of medical beds is 57. On completion of Phase 2B, that number will have risen to 93. The number of surgical beds, which stands at 57, will increase to 62, and that will include 19 five-day beds and 12 day beds or trolleys. We have no rehabilitation beds at present, but there will be 15. We have 25 paediatric beds, the number of which will not change, neither will the number of obstetric or gynaecology beds. The number of intensive care unit beds will increase from three to six and coronary care unit beds will increase from three to six. The Minister of State will appreciate, given my background, that the acute psychiatric unit is important to me and also to people who suffer from psychiatric illness in the Longford-Westmeath catchment area.

It is important that the next stage of the development of Phase 2B is approved as a matter of urgency. I appeal to the Minister of State and his colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, to do everything possible to expedite the appointment of the design team to allow the development of Phase 2B to proceed. There is impatience with the manner in which it is proceeding. I accept there are difficulties and additional costs, but I appeal to the Minister of State to look on it as favourably as possible.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy I endorse everything Senator Glynn has called for. He is a long-standing member of the health board and will be the incoming chairman this summer. He has vast experience in the health service, having devoted all his life to the service of the people of the midlands. We realise that eight stages are involved in this plan before work will commence on Phase 2B. We are at stage three and we understand from our briefing with the consultants, health board officials [202] and representatives of the Longford-Westmeath General Hospital some months ago that, with the best will in the world and with everything in place and running on time, this project will not be able to commence until the autumn of 2002.

Be that as it may, our job as public representatives and members of the health board is to ensure the Government allocates the £30 million or more needed to allow the project proceed to the design team and tender documents stages. As the project is enormous, it must be advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union. The building is in place and everything is ready. It only requires funding to be made available. If it is not available, I sincerely hope that the Estimates going through Government include this project. This is the number one project for us as public representatives of the midland counties of Longford and Westmeath. The investment by previous Governments and by the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Cowen, in Longford-Westmeath General Hospital has been substantial, with the result that it now has one of the finest hospital units in the country. The staff are magnificent and do a wonderful job, carrying out their work above and beyond the call of duty.

The increase in population has created a huge need. Twenty years ago, Mullingar had a population of 8,000. Westmeath County Council is now putting in place infrastructure for water and sewerage for a town of 50,000. Road and rail improvements and the fact that we are so close to Dublin are indicators that Mullingar will soon be an arm of Dublin, with O'Connell Street only 40 minutes away. We need to have the finance in place for this necessary wing, the structure of which is already built. I hope funding will be made available soon for this necessary project.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Dr. Moffatt): I am pleased to address the Seanad on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, regarding this matter.

As the Senators will be aware, the then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, approved the establishment of a project team in May 1999 to commence the planning of the Phase 2B development at Longford-Westmeath General Hospital. In keeping with normal practice in major capital developments of this type, the project team was asked to prepare a written design brief for the development of Phase 2B, taking into account the considerable detail involved in developing a brief of this type. The brief for the hospital development indicated that Phase 2B would include the following departments: pathology, theatres, general medicine, general surgery, day surgery, administration services, isolation facilities, staff changing rooms and staff rest rooms. The urgent requirement for an acute psychiatric unit on the site was highlighted subsequent to the development of the original Phase 2 brief.

[203] The brief was received in the Department on 16 November 2000. In a letter from the chief executive officer of the Midland Health Board, which accompanied the brief, he indicated that the project team was anxious that intensive care and coronary care be included in Phase 2B and that the budget allocated for this purpose should enable these departments to proceed. The chief executive officer also expressed the view of the project team that, in the event of additional national development plan funding or other capital funding being made available, the outstanding departments not already included in Phase 2B should proceed as part of the Phase 2B contract. These include a rehabilitation unit, child and adolescent psychiatry, occupational therapy, a catering department, day services, other than surgical, and ICU/CCU.

A further letter on 10 January 2001 from the [204] secretary of the Midland Health Board to the Secretary General of the Department indicated that board members had unanimously adopted a motion calling on my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, to give a firm commitment on the inclusion of the ICU/CCU, rehabilitation unit, child and adolescent psychiatry, occupational therapy department, catering department and day services in Phase 2B of the Longford-Westmeath development.

The additional accommodation is a substantial additional cost on the Phase 2B proposal for which the project team was appointed. My Department will consider these additional proposals in the light of the availability of funding under the National Development Plan, 2000-2006.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 5 April 2001.

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