Seanad Éireann - Volume 177 - 22 June, 2004

Adjournment Matters.

Hospital Services.

  Mr. U. Burke: I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this matter for debate on the Adjournment, and I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Callely, for attending the House.

The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, should indicate his willingness to upgrade Portiuncula Hospital to the status of a general hospital by utilising funds from the sale by the Western Health Board of property at St. Bridget’s Hospital, Ballinasloe. Following improvements in the Western Health Board’s psychiatric services, the facilities at St. Bridget’s Hospital, Ballinasloe, are surplus to requirements in many cases. This is due to the change from an institutionalised service to a community-based service, which has been welcomed by all involved.

The Minister and the Western Health Board should ringfence funds accruing to the Department and the health board from the sale of property at St. Bridget’s Hospital for the development of Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe. The latter hospital should be upgraded from its current status to that of a general hospital, similar to Castlebar Hospital, which is also within that health board’s area.

An outline development plan was put in place at Portiuncula by the hospital’s management prior to the purchase of the hospital by the Western Health Board some years ago. This was done in consultation with the health board and all parties signed off on how the project would be developed into the future. This would involve an increase in bed capacity from the current 206 to approximately 340 beds, which is the number required for the development of all areas of speciality services currently provided at the hospital, namely cardiac, maternity, accident and emergency and geriatric care.

Portiuncula Hospital cannot develop further due to a lack of facilities. As with all other [200]hospitals, the accident and emergency unit is under severe pressure due to the increasing numbers presenting for treatment on an ongoing basis. The hospital’s speciality services cannot expand due to physical constraints as well as the need for additional medical, nursing and support staff.

Portiuncula Hospital requires capital investment to provide the additional infrastructure to support speciality services, such as the rehab, laboratory and x-ray units. The newest accommodation in many of these areas dates from the mid-1980s. It will be difficult to cater for the current demand for services at the hospital without upgrading it. Many support services are provided in makeshift accommodation, so the hospital requires proper facilities to allow for expansion.

The Minister should indicate that funding accruing from the sale of property at St. Bridget’s Hospital will be ringfenced to provide for such facilities at Portiuncula Hospital. The health board and the Minister have already indicated that a modern psychiatric unit will be provided at Portiuncula, partly due to the sale of property at St. Bridget’s. I am requesting the Minister to use all the funds from the sale of the remainder of the property at St. Bridget’s to upgrade Portiuncula to a general hospital.

  Mr. Callely: I welcome the opportunity to respond to Senator Ulick Burke’s desire to secure the future of Portiuncula Hospital. I want to place on record my commitment to ensuring the future of Portiuncula Hospital as part of an integrated network of hospitals, providing the highest quality treatment and care for patients. That is the starting point of any discussion on its future status. We have heard many times about downgrading or closure——

  Mr. U. Burke: We have.

  Mr. Callely: ——but I ask the Senator to ensure the message concerning my commitment to the future of Portiuncula Hospital is heard loud and clear in the region.

The Senator raises the question of transferring resources from the sale of St. Bridget’s Hospital, Ballinasloe, to benefit solely Portiuncula Hospital. My personal view is that proceeds of the sale of such assets, including land, should first be invested in the care programme in the immediate area to which the lands belong. This will ensure we do not allow gaps in services. After the initial investment in the immediate requirements, improvements and upgrades for any other priority care programme services will also be examined.

In this instance the Western Health Board is the service provider in the area to which the Senator has referred and it will prioritise the identified needs. The health board has agreed in principle to sell St. Bridget’s Hospital and lands, with the proviso that the proceeds of the sale are [201]utilised for the development of mental health services in east Galway. As Senator Ulick Burke quite rightly said, the board has plans for the development of an acute psychiatric unit at Portiuncula Hospital, a high support unit, a continuing care facility, a community nursing unit for the elderly mentally ill, and some community residences.

I want to see the moneys that may come in being used for the proposed services. Rather than using the word “ringfenced”, we should examine how the service provider in the region intends to upgrade the required services in consultation with the Department of Health and Children. I would like to see reinvestment in the provision of services in the immediate area. How the service provider will prioritise and decide that is, in the first instance, a matter for the health board. I have no doubt the service provider would be interested in hearing from Senator Ulick Burke on how he considers the money generated should be utilised.

As Senator Ulick Burke is aware, I visited the community nursing unit for the elderly mentally ill and some community residences and wholeheartedly support this type of development. It will be of tremendous benefit to the quality of life of the patients who require such services.

In regard to the motion, I am confident the future of Portiuncula Hospital is secure as a vital element of health care provision in the region. I hope my comments have been helpful to the Senator.