09/07/15 Senator Daly Speaks to the Seanad and Minister for Health Leo Varadkar on the Care for the Elderly Provision

Senator Daly: I thank the Minister for coming to the House to deal with this matter relating to Kenmare hospital. This €7 million project was constructed and completed more than two years ago. The official opening was performed one year ago by his predecessor. It is a fantastic new facility for the community. The campaign had been carried on since 1974 when the first of many promises were made about the hospital. Unfortunately, over four decades, many of those promises were not fulfilled. However, the community and the Kenmare hospital action group are delighted that their sustained efforts over those decades have reached fulfilment. Unfortunately, despite the fact we have a 40-bed hospital, not all beds are in use and there is a huge demand for them. We have been in contact with the HSE to ask for the remainder of the beds to be opened but staffing has not been allocated. Will the Minister look into this situation?

I commend the efforts of the likes of Una Clinton O’Neill, who is the chairperson of the group, and many others who met all the politicians from all sides to ensure this was fulfilled only to see half the hospital empty. This is not a desirable situation. Ms O’Neill and others were involved in what could be described as tense negotiations before the previous Government collapsed whereby a legally binding letter of agreement was issued by the HSE which ensured that for the first time we had a concrete sign to ensure, despite many years of promises, the hospital would open. I was delighted to be involved in the negotiations with the HSE and Glenbeigh Construction to ensure, despite many promises from 1974 and including 1997, 2002 and 2007 – the list of all the broken promises is too long – we eventually got the hospital. It is half-opened and I hope the Minister will have news as to when all the rooms and the required staffing will be in place.

Minister Varadkar: I thank Senator Daly for raising this matter. I am taking this debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who is abroad on Government business.

The Kenmare community nursing unit was opened in 2013. It replaced the existing 24-bed residential unit with a new facility which includes 40 residential beds, a mental health day care centre and a new ambulance base for the locality. The new unit provides an improved and enhanced environment for residents in which the strong local tradition of caring for the elderly can continue to flourish. When the stage is reached where an older person can no longer remain at home, the State provides financial support through the nursing homes support scheme for those who need long-term residential care. The scheme aims to ensure long-term nursing home care is accessible and affordable for everyone and that people are cared for in the most appropriate settings. The scheme is currently the subject of a review. This review is considering the scheme’s long-term sustainability as well as looking at how well the current model of provision is balancing residential care with care in the community and whether this needs to be adjusted to better reflect what older people want.

Following registration with HIQA in June 2013, Kenmare community care unit opened on a phased basis, with the first phase being the transfer of the inpatient service within existing resources. The HSE Cork and Kerry community health organisation is carrying out a review of services in the Kerry community hospitals. The review of Kenmare community hospital will consider the requirement for both long-stay and short-stay residential beds. Following this review, HSE management in Kerry will be in a position to consider the viability of opening and funding additional beds in Kenmare community hospital, particularly through funding from the nursing home support scheme.

The collection of data for the review of services began on 9 January and concluded yesterday. A preliminary analysis of the data collected to date about short-stay bed availability in County Kerry has indicated that during the months of January to June, there was no evidence of a deficit in the number of short-stay beds available to meet requests for admission to these beds. Kenmare community hospital currently has two short-stay beds vacant. All the long-stay beds in the hospital are currently occupied. A final report on the bed requirements at Kenmare community hospital will be completed and available at the end of this month. The HSE will continue to explore how the additional beds in Kenmare community hospital can best be utilised to meet the needs of the wider community.

Senator Daly: I thank the Minister for the reply. I note the issue with regard to the data collected and the fact that two short-stay beds are currently vacant but the real need relates to long-stay beds because that is the function of a community nursing unit. I have information about a person who will need a short-stay bed following a fall at mass last week when it took one hour for the ambulance to show up, but that is a matter for another day. There are 20 long-stay beds vacant but there is a pent-up demand for long-stay beds. I agree that the short-stay beds are a different matter. Perhaps the Minister will examine the issue of the long-stay beds because no staff have been allocated for the nursing unit to ensure the 20 other vacant beds on an entire floor of the hospital can be used.

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