The Minister for Health James Reilly categorically committed to the long-term future of St Joseph’s Care Centre during a visit to the facility last Monday morning.
The statement ends months of speculation that the facility was at risk of losing the required level of beds to remain open, and faced further downgrading or even privatisation.
Speaking after he paid a visit to the newly refurbished ‘Padre Pio’ ward at the Dublin Road facility, the minister reiterated the commitment he made to local representatives at a recent meeting with party councillors, and said there was no risk to services at St Joseph’s.
He also ruled out any downgrading of services at the 24-hour A & E at Midlands Regional Hospital, Mullingar and said there is no threat to the GP-led MIDOC services in Longford either.
The Dublin North TD, who is Deputy Leader of Fine Gael, also mooted the possibility of increasing the services offered at St Joseph’s and possibly bed numbers, which have fallen from 168 in 2008 to 74 now, with 68 of these currently occupied.
Minister Reilly said St Joseph’s was suitable for use as a GP-led step-down facility as his Department are exploring options to free-up beds in busier hospitals while providing a safe level of care for moderate medical problems that may not warrant a bed in a major hospital but in which the patient can not remain at home alone.
“A classic case is someone living at home alone developing pneumonia who is not responding to aural antibiotics and needs to come into hospital for 24 or 48 hours to get intravenous antibiotics and get rehydrated on a drip. That’s the sort of work that could be carried out here. I’ve asked the staff to put a business case together so we can look at it and see what financial sense it would make. Certainly from a patient point of view it makes great sense,” he said.
The health minister refused to be drawn on comments relating to party colleague Cllr Peggy Nolan being accused of “scaremongering” for recent remarks casting doubt on the future of St Joseph’s. “It’s not for me to get involved in the local politics of an area. I’m the Minister for Health and as such I want to tell people that they can be reassured that the future of St Joseph’s is secure and that is a definite,” he said.
The Minister said he wanted to improve healthcare locally by developing “appropriate and safe” services as opposed to introducing other services that would not be cost effective or safe for the patient. “There’s no sense in saying we can have a 24 hour emergency department here in Longford because we just don’t have the back-up within the community nursing unit hospital here to do that. Let’s keep what is sensible to keep and cost effective here instead of sending it to Mullingar.”
When questioned on future funding to St Christopher’s Services, the Minister could not say either way if the Battery Road facility would be hit by another cut to its funding in next year’s budget, after €450,000 was wiped from its funding this year. Making reference to the €280 million deficit in the HSE’s budget for the first five months of this year, he said: “We’re in the middle of doing our budget and have the current overrun we have to address, and then we can talk about next year’s budget.”