Fine Gael TD for Longford-Westmeath, James Bannon, has revealed the Health Care Executive (HSE) is to examine the suitability of St Joseph’s Care Centre as a step-down facility.
“The Minister for Health has asked the HSE to examine the matter and present him with an appraisal for his consideration,” Deputy Bannon said. “I recently raised this issue in the Dáil during a Private Members Bill on Hospital Emergency Departments and Minister Varadkar was very receptive towards the idea.”
In a letter seen by the Longford Leader, Minister Varadkar acknowledged the need for such a facility, with Longford patients caught up in the recent overcrowding at the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar.
“I think there is real merit in your proposal for additional ‘step-down’ or convalescence facilities at St Joseph’s,” he told Deputy Bannon in the letter.
The Minister added that he has instructed the HSE to examine the possibility and supply him with an appraisal.
However, he also admitted there are issues to be addressed: “These include the cost and feasibility of any capital works that may have to be carried out, compliance with HIQA regulations, governance and, as always, availability of staff and finance. Both are scarce at present.”
The issue of funding for a step-down centre at St Joseph’s was also discussed at the monthly meeting of Longford County Council last Wednesday, March 11.
“The HSE says it has no budget for step-down facilities and told us to bring it up with the Minister,” Cllr PJ Reilly (FF) said. “We need to meet Minister Varadkar immediately.”
Fine Gael’s Cllr Peggy Nolan was adamant funding is available.
“There is a national budget in place for step-downs,” she asserted. “If the HSE has the will, it can go after that money.”
Meanwhile, Cllr Pat O’Toole (FF) added: “The savings made on waiting lists at Mullingar and Tullamore would pay for a 10-bed facility at St Joseph’s.”