Dáil Éireann - Volume 592 - 09 November, 2004
Adjournment Debate. - Hospital Services.
Mr. Ferris Mr. Ferris
Mr. Ferris: I welcome the opportunity to raise this matter on the Adjournment. Kerry’s general hospital was built in the late 1970s and when fully operational has 377 hospital beds. In recent years two wards have been closed down each summer. Each year the number of babies born has increased and the number has rocketed in the past two years. This is an indication of the confidence the people of Kerry, north Cork and west Limerick have in the service provided in Tralee General Hospital. Only two weeks ago I had the beautiful experience of my granddaughter being born there. I compliment the staff on the tremendous work they do, despite the difficulties encountered.
Despite an increase of 40% in the number of babies born in Tralee, staffing levels have remained static. Approximately 1,460 children were born there last year and the figure for this year is running at 150 a month. Despite this growth there is a shortage of midwives. When applications were sought for the position of midwife last month, not one person applied. Six midwives have left the hospital this year. The question must be asked as to the reason for this.
The situation is so serious that the eminent gynaecologist, Dr. Mary McCaffrey, went public yesterday out of frustration and desperation. She is a fantastic person who does tremendous work, but is at her wit’s end. She has called for the provision of a new maternity unit and the immediate approval of funds for more doctors and staff. I urge the Minister to address this matter.
The Irish Nurses Organisation has sought an urgent meeting with senior Southern Health Board officials to discuss the chaos in Kerry’s general hospital. People are particularly exasperated on account of the fact that the advertisement for three midwives got no response. We must ask why. The reason is evident, according to one of the local newspapers, which states that it is because of poor conditions and wages. Matters are so desperate that some midwives have had to work in the wards changing beds and helping ordinary staff.
All the elected representatives in the area are aware of the situation and they and I have raised the matter here on several occasions. Something  needs to be done about the accident and emergency unit, bed closures and the maternity section. The problems must be addressed now. Matters must be serious when we see a conservative newspaper like The Kingdom state:
It can only be a matter of time before the ordinary people of Kerry follow the example of disgruntled patients and their families in Dublin and take to the streets in protest. If they do, The Kingdom will be right there beside them and we will shout loudest and longest.
This is the situation that is developing, according to the local widely read newspaper. These are not the sentiments of somebody like me in the business of opposition, these are the feelings of people on the ground who have visited the hospital, seen the waiting lists, the accident and emergency unit where people are lying on trolleys and the continued deterioration in the maternity section.
The Minister must listen to the staff who are crying out for help. The numbers born in the maternity section have been turned around and there are now more children born in Kerry’s general hospital than at any time since 1979, especially in the past few years. Previously mothers went to Cork University Hospital to have their children but that trend has been reversed due to the tremendous service provided in Tralee despite the lack of funds. There is a chance for the Minister to turn the situation around, but she needs to address the matter urgently.
Mr. T. O’Malley Mr. T. O’Malley
Mr. T. O’Malley: I thank Deputy Ferris for raising this matter on the Adjournment. I congratulate him on the recent birth of his grandchild in Tralee hospital.
The Deputy will be aware that responsibility for the provision of services at Kerry’s general hospital in Tralee rests with the Southern Health Board. A capital projects development team for Kerry General Hospital, Tralee was established in September 2000 to prepare a strategy plan for the current and future needs of the hospital. The development plan included the construction of a purpose-built maternity unit.
On 11 February this year, the Southern Health Board sent a statement of need to the Department of Health and Children for a women’s health unit at Kerry General Hospital, Tralee. This statement of need sets out the current position on the delivery of maternity services at the hospital, which are under pressure to cater for the current demands for the service. The growth in demand for obstetric services is evident from the number of births at the hospital, which increased from 1,163 in 1999 to 1,452 in 2003. Establishment of a project team to progress proposals for a new maternity unit at Kerry General Hospital falls to be considered in the context of overall funding resources available under the Capital Investment Framework 2004-2008.
 The Department of Health and Children understands that the Southern Health Board is in the process of updating the statement of need to take account of the most recent needs identified for the service. In June 2004, the Department approved the filling of a third permanent consultant obstetrician-gynaecologist post at Kerry General Hospital. I understand that the board has now advertised this post.
The Department and the Southern Health Board will continue to work together to identify a means of progressing this project.
Dáil Éireann 592 Adjournment Debate. Hospital Services.