Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for permission to raise this important matter. I hope the Minister of State has good news because the Government has spent more than €11.5 million on a state-of-the-art accident and emergency unit in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, which has lain idle since the end of last year. It is, therefore, in its fifth month without use. In the meantime, every week dozens of patients lie on trolleys in the hospital. Patients, staff and the good name of the hospital are suffering as a result. The hospital has received bad publicity in the past but the medical staff want this facility to work. The people need the unit, which should have been built five years ago. It is well behind schedule and we want to look forward to its opening.
A total of 34 additional staff are needed for the new unit but I understand this is an issue. The taxpayer has made a commitment to a state-of-the-art facility in the north east and it is imperative that the Government recruits the necessary staff. The HSE has not made a decision to prevent the unit opening. It is prepared to hire the staff but the issue is whether the Minister will give consent in order that specialist nursing and care staff can be appointed.
This week the Drogheda Independent described the appalling conditions in which people must work and in which patients must stay. A 91-year old lady suffering from Alzheimer’s disease spent more than 28 hours on a trolley while a 70-year old woman spent more than 32 hours on a trolley in recent months. It is not good enough. When will the unit open? Why has consent not been given to recruit staff? The people of the north east need this facility. The Government has closed services in Dundalk and Monaghan, which people have not accepted, and there is significant pressure on the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, which is chock-a-block day and night. Sick people need the new unit and medical staff, who have waited patiently for many years for this facility are becoming increasingly angry that they have to look at a ghost department. State-of-the-art beds and equipment are covered in plastic and cannot be used. Doctors and nurses with tremendous skills need this equipment and they need to provide a service to save lives. Patient care is suffering as a result. I hope the Minister of State has good news.
The transformation programme for the north east involves widespread and fundamental change. It is designed to build a health system that is in line with the model of care emerging internationally. This can be achieved by centralising acute and complex care in order that clinical skill levels are safeguarded by ensuring access to a sufficient throughput of cases. The need to reconfigure health services in the north east was highlighted, along with identified patient safety and quality of care issues, in the 2006 teamwork report to the HSE: Improving Safety and Achieving Better Standards — An Action Plan for Health Services in theNorth East. This report demonstrated that the service configuration in the region was unsustainable.
The first step in transforming services in the north east is to develop a fully integrated regional health service to ensure that people in the north east have local access to both routine planned care and immediate life saving emergency care. The HSE began this process with the transfer of acute inpatient services from Monaghan Hospital to Cavan General Hospital on 22 July 2009, which was supported by the opening of the medical assessment unit, MAU, in Cavan General Hospital in March 2009, the development and implementation of an enhanced ambulance and pre-hospital thrombolysis service, together with enhanced primary care services.
The immediate focus is now on service reconfiguration in the Louth and Meath area, which involves transferring acute services to Drogheda, strengthening existing medical services, enhancing emergency department capacity, developing appropriate ambulance protocols, completing surgical reconfiguration and providing additional community packages of care. The new emergency department at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda will provide an improved service to both patients and staff within the Dublin north east region. This new department, which encompasses best design principles, is approximately 1,300 sq. m in size, and represents a 300% increase in size from the existing department in use today. The increased size of the department and the specific entrance points will allow patients access the department in a more timely manner by segregating patients at first point of contact with a separate entrance for ambulance and stretcher-borne trauma and another separate entrance for the walking wounded, as it were.
Once the department opens, all paediatric patients presenting to it will be assessed and treated in a designated paediatric area. Adult patients will be allocated to one of three distinct assessment and treatment areas; the minor injuries department, the major treatment department and the resuscitation area. Patients will have more immediate access to diagnostics with an on-site emergency department, dedicated X-ray facility and staff. Patients will benefit from more immediate treatment, enhanced outcomes and a more patient-focused environment. Staff will benefit as the new infrastructure and design of the department will facilitate easier access to patients and ultimately earlier admission or discharge.
The increase in size of the emergency department means that staffing levels must be examined. That is the nub of the issue. Under the 2010 employment control framework the filling of posts is in the first instance to be by redeployment from within current services. Once redeployment options have been explored, external recruitment may then proceed in line with this framework. The HSE is committed to opening the new emergency department at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda at the earliest possible date. Negotiations are in progress between the HSE and unions in order to agree a mechanism to redeploy staff at all grades and in some instances to consider outsourcing or contracting. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to reach agreement on these matters to date but the HSE will continue to try to achieve an agreement as quickly as possible in order to open the facility.
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