Tuesday, 16 June 1998
Dáil Éireann Debate
7. Mr. Shatter asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of dialysis stations that will be open for use in Tallaght Hospital on the designated opening day out of the total number of stations for which provision has been made in the hospital; the reason all dialysis stations or units as provided for will not be available for use on that day; the arrangements, if any, made to bring the latter dialysis stations into use; and the initiative, if any, he proposes taking with regard to the serious concerns expressed by the Irish Kidney Association in this regard. [14110/98]
Mr. Cowen: It has been agreed with the management of the new hospital in Tallaght that the first task in commissioning the hospital is to transfer existing services to Tallaght and to immediately bring on stream at the new hospital those enhanced facilities which are necessary for the functioning of a major acute hospital. These new facilities include on site laboratory services, more sophisticated theatres, state of the art sterile services, a “best of breed” information system/ information technology system and an ultra modern filmless radiology system known as PACS, Picture Archiving Communication System.
The new hospital in Tallaght will be staffed and equipped on opening to serve dialysis patients transferring from the Meath Hospital. This means that seven dialysis stations will be available in Tallaght. This is the same number as currently in use in the Meath Hospital. The dialysis service will open in Tallaght on Monday, 22 June 1998.
Capacity has been provided within the infrastructure to allow for an expansion to 14 stations. Additional equipment and staff will be required to commission the additional seven stations. It is  anticipated that these facilities will come on stream from 1999 to meet the needs arising.
While I cannot give any commitment at this stage regarding the quantum of funding for 1999, I am confident that additional funds will be made available to the hospital. It will then be a matter for the hospital management to prioritise a programme of developments in the context of its 1999 service plan.
I am aware the Irish Kidney Association has expressed concerns regarding the design of the new unit. Following consultations with the management of the unit and with the South Dublin Irish Kidney Association, agreement was reached on a number of alterations to the unit. This work has now been completed and the new unit is being commissioned.
I am also aware the Irish Kidney Association is anxious that the additional stations be brought on stream as quickly as possible so that people living near to Tallaght will not have to travel elsewhere for dialysis. I will ask the hospitals to examine the treatment locations of patients currently receiving dialysis in the Dublin area to establish the feasibility of reducing travelling times for patients following the opening of the unit at Tallaght. Any change in the location of patients' treatments can only take place following the organisation and arrangement of such transfer by their attending medical consultant.
Mr. Shatter: Will the Minister acknowledge it is desirable that, following the opening of Tallaght Hospital, those who require dialysis and who live within the catchment area of the hospital should be able to obtain that procedure in Tallaght without having to travel to other parts of Dublin? Is the Minister aware there is considerable concern in the Irish Kidney Association that the seven dialysis stations will be inadequate to meet the need the hospital will have to service? Does he have any plans to provide any additional funding to the hospital within the next few weeks to allow at least some of the additional dialysis stations to be brought on stream this year rather than in 1999?
Mr. Cowen: I made the position clear that the transfer of existing services requires the opening of seven stations. I am confident and optimistic that the 14 stations will come on stream in 1999. I am not in a position to enhance the service in the current year.
We have been ensuring that some of the issues raised by the Irish Kidney Association are dealt with. Building adjustments have been completed, including reducing the size of bulkheads, relocating the nurses' station and removal of screens and showers, largely to increase space and improve access to the dialysis stations. We are now ready to commission the seven stations. The commitment has been at all times to transfer existing services in the current year. There will obviously be a transitional period. Over time people from that area will want to relocate their dialysis treatment  services to Tallaght, and that is understandable. We will have to configure the existing services within Dublin to facilitate Tallaght Hospital coming on stream but the 14 stations will not be available on day one.
Mr. Shatter: Does the Minister acknowledge that it is inefficient use of resources and contrary to the community catchment ethos of Tallaght Hospital that people who live in Tallaght may still have to go to Beaumont Hospital for dialysis? Does he regard that as acceptable or unacceptable? Will he clarify why the dialysis stations as originally constructed did not meet the purposes for which they are required? Will he indicate to the House the additional cost of rearranging the stations and explain why the Irish Kidney Association was not consulted in the con-text of the construction of this aspect of the hospital and difficulties arose with regard to this aspect of the hospital of a similar nature to difficulties that arose in other parts of the hospital?
Mr. Cowen: I cannot give the exact cost of the changes because the final contractual arrangements with the builder have not been concluded. That is under negotiation, so even if I had the information it would not be prudent to give it. I have outlined the nature of the changes and they do not seem to have been major. The design brief for this hospital was originally for 1984.
Mr. Cowen: There have been improvements in that area of treatment, as in many other areas. Legitimate concerns have been addressed and seven stations will be commissioned, opening on 22 June. The other issues to be addressed are also legitimate ones regarding the enhanced level of treatment services in Tallaght over and above the existing dialysis services in the Meath Hospital. They will have to be addressed over time.
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