Thursday, 7 October 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I regret that the Minister for Health and Children is not here to answer this matter on the Adjournment, not on my own behalf but on behalf of the young people who so desperately need answers on cystic fibrosis facilities. I hope the Minister of State will have answers for them.
The lives of cystic fibrosis patients depend on the speed at which the promised single-bed unit in St. Vincent’s Hospital is delivered. Will the contract be signed on Friday 15 October, as has been indicated? How long will it take to build and how soon will it be open?
It is a national shame that these young adults, including household names such as Orla Tinsley, Anita Slowey, Gillian McNulty and others have had to go on the national airways and the front of our daily newspapers to get this most basic and vital service, namely, a hospital bed in a room on their own so that they are not exposed to the kind of cross infections that can take their young lives away. They have spoken out so eloquently, bravely and passionately that my time is better used putting their words, rather than mine, on the record. Anita Slowey wrote to RTE this week and her letter is reprinted on the front of today’s Irish Examiner. She said:
That is a very graphic description of the life and death situation in which these young patients find themselves. One young woman said on radio that she was asked to take part in a photograph on the site of the new unit when she was 18. She is now 31 and not a sod has been turned.
Other countries have much better facilities for these young people, where single bed wards are the norm, where they are not subject to these cross infections and where their lifespans are much longer. What they need from us is plain words and clear answers. Will the contract be signed on Friday week? How long will it take to build and fit out? Will the staffing be in place as soon as the building is ready to open? Can the single-bed units that do exist at the moment in St. Vincent’s Hospital be available for cystic fibrosis patients? I hope there will be clear answers to these questions.
Deputy John Moloney: Without being glib, I fully understand the huge distress caused by cystic fibrosis. I remember well the presentations made when I was chairman of the health committee three years ago, and I will try to be as direct as I can. I am afraid the Minister could not be here this evening.
I am aware that the site has been cleared. The brief from the Department on the signing of the contract is imminent. I know that the word “imminent” can be stretched out, but I am satisfied that the development will take 18 months, and I have been told that it will be completed in early 2012.
This has been on the agenda for quite some time. We are about to enter the tender process and the clear commitment has been to 2012. It is in all our interests to ensure that we maintain these deadlines and watch the progress as we go through each month. While it might sound a bit hollow, the building of the new ward block at St. Vincent’s hospital is a priority for the Government given that we are making the case and the tender is imminent. The Minister and the HSE have the same priority. St. Vincent’s hospital and the HSE are working to ensure the earliest possible delivery of the new ward block. The Department has been advised by St. Vincent’s hospital that the signing of the contract to commence the project is imminent. The site has been cleared and is ready for construction to begin. Construction will take 18 months and completion is expected early in 2012. The development at the hospital will provide a state-of-the-art clinical building which will include up-to-date isolation facilities with accommodation for people with cystic fibrosis.
I am aware of this morning’s letter from Anita Slowey and I have heard Orla Tinsley on numerous occasions. We are aware of the urgency of ensuring that the commitments given here today will remain intact. This 100-bed inpatient unit with single en-suite rooms will accommodate the needs of patients with cystic fibrosis and many other patients whose medical requirements necessitate single en-suite facilities. This reflects best practice in terms of infection control. It will also provide ten single-day treatment rooms with en-suite sanitary facilities. The hospital has been in regular contact with the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland and with the cystic fibrosis patient liaison group in the hospital. It has explained the detail of the process that is being worked through.
The Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland has accepted that the tender process will be completed very shortly. Clearly, I would prefer to be in a position to say what “shortly” means, but I believe it will be within a number of weeks. When that process is completed construction will commence. The physical infrastructure at St. Vincent’s hospital has been significantly enhanced through a number of completed capital projects in recent years. In 2008, the accommodation was refurbished to provide eight single en-suite rooms for the exclusive use of people with cystic fibrosis. The hospital’s management works closely with the cystic fibrosis clinicians to ensure that the needs of cystic fibrosis patients requiring inpatient treatment are met within the overall bed complement at the hospital. There are currently 63 beds at St. Vincent’s hospital used for respiratory and cystic fibrosis services. The hospital currently treats more than 50% of Irish adults with cystic fibrosis. The HSE is now working with St. Vincent’s hospital to identify opportunities for patients who do not require tertiary level care to be treated closer to home where adult services have been developed in the other specialist centres.
Funding has been provided for the recruitment of additional specialist staff at St. Vincent’s hospital and other hospitals which provide specialist care as part of a national initiative to improve care for patients with cystic fibrosis. These staff include consultant, nursing and allied health professionals. The Minister and the HSE are committed to this very important project at St. Vincent’s hospital which will improve the services available to patients with cystic fibrosis attending the hospital. I am not in a position to answer the Deputy’s question regarding the use of rooms at present and I will respond to her during the week.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I ask that the Minister of State present or the Minister for Health and Children make a statement by tomorrow on what imminent means. People really want to get a definite date. I ask the Minister of State or the Minister to engage with St. Vincent’s hospital and the HSE to get people a date.
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