I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this important matter for discussion. St. Vincent’s Hospital in Athy can trace its history back to the opening of the Athy workhouse on 9 January 1844, an event that came just in time to relieve some of the harshest effects of the Famine in and around that area of south Kildare. The Sisters of Mercy arrived there as nursing sisters in 1873. In 1898, it became a county home.
St. Vincent’s Hospital has a proud history in the care of older persons that is unrivalled among hospitals. The reputation of the staff of the hospital for the level of care offered is such that there is always a waiting list of families hoping to obtain a bed for their loved ones. One hears again and again from families about the level of care and attention their loved ones receive, or have received, in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Athy. Indeed, families come from all over Kildare to avail of the services of the hospital. It is still one of the biggest employers in Athy and continues to be held in the highest regard by all of the town’s population and those throughout the county who have had family members as patients there.
It was early in 2019 when we all received confirmation from the HSE that a design team had been appointed for the new hospital and that the HSE was working towards a stage 2 scheme design. The reply confirmed that planning permission would be sought in 2019. It was said at that time the new addition would provide St. Vincent’s Hospital with the modern facilities of a new 50-bed unit to mark a 21st century healthcare system at a cost of approximately €9.3 million. Importantly, we were informed that the new hospital would result in a 50-bed unit built alongside the existing hospital where it was expected that 66 beds would be maintained, thus ensuring that all 116 beds in St. Vincent’s would remain open and available to those who need them most. Subsequent inquiries with the HSE determined that some of these plans would be modified but that the new hospital was to proceed. Unfortunately, we are still awaiting its delivery.
St. Vincent’s Hospital in Athy has stood on the site since 1844. Today it is a model of care with the best staff and management that any family could hope to have to look after their loved ones. I hope the Minister of State will confirm that the new facility will proceed and that despite the delays, this much-needed hospital for the older population of our county will be put back on track and delivered in the quickest possible timeframe. We all know our population is getting older. The outstanding services in St. Vincent’s are needed. I sincerely hope the HSE and the Government recognise that and invest in this great facility which will hopefully be providing care for those who need it most for the next 175 years.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to provide to the House an update on this project.
This is part of an overall project for the replacement of a 95-bed community nursing unit, CNU, at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Athy, County Kildare. The project will be completed in two phases, with the 50-bed unit to be delivered as part of the first construction phase. I thank Senator Wall for the historical analysis he gave. It is quite obvious that the Sisters of Mercy have been very fruitful and active in Athy for many generations and it is nice to see him acknowledge that. I also want to thank the Sisters of Mercy. As the Senator knows, I was in Cuan Mhuire in Athy in my capacity as Minister of State for the national drugs strategy. I thank the Sisters of Mercy for the great work they are doing.
The standard of care delivered to residents in public units is generally very high, but we recognise that many of our community hospitals are housed in buildings that are less than ideal in the modern context, although without them many older people would not have access to the care they need. It is important, therefore, that we upgrade our public bed stock. This is the aim of the capital investment programme for community nursing units. This provides a framework to allow for a programme to replace, upgrade and refurbish these care facilities as appropriate. The project is part of this programme.
Significant work was undertaken to determine the optimum schedule of projects, within the phased provision of funding, to achieve compliance and registration with the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA. A design team has been appointed to progress a project that will deliver a 95-bed replacement community nursing unit on this site. The design for the overall scheme of this development has been adjusted to account for learnings from Covid-19. The revised plan developed includes delivery of the project in two phases. This plan comprises initially delivering the 50-bed unit during the first stage and a 45-bed unit, including two ten-bed dementia units, during phase 2. This project is included in the capital programme for 2022. An application for planning permission is expected to be submitted in quarter 1 of 2022.
The scope of these two projects will enable older person services to decant from and vacate the protected structure building. In order to accommodate the new CNU, a number of wards will need to be demolished as part of a planned or phased decant from the old to the new unit. All capital development proposals must progress through a number of approval stages in line with the public spending code, including detailed appraisal, planning, design and procurement, before a firm timeline or funding requirement can be established.
The delivery of capital projects is a dynamic process and is subject to the successful completion of the various approval stages. The final decision to proceed with the construction of a project cannot be made until the tender process has been completed and the costings reviewed to ensure that the proposal delivers value for money and remains affordable, and that sufficient funding is available to fund the project to completion, including equipping and commissioning costs.
I thank the Minister of State very much for his reply. It is heart-warming to hear his words of support for the hospital in St. Vincent’s, Athy. Since his recent visit, I am sure his words are most heartfelt.
I was very happy with the start of his reply, which stated that the HSE would apply for planning permission in quarter 1 of 2022. It then deteriorated a little when he said that the Department would look at this project as it proceeded through the various planning and construction phases. What the people of Athy and the surrounding areas want to know today, especially the staff who, I can assure the Minister of State, are incredible, is that this hospital will proceed, they will have jobs and those who need this facility most will have one that has lasted 175 years in the town and will, hopefully, last into the future. If the Minister of State could confirm today that we will see a new hospital of St. Vincent’s, Athy, it will be most welcome to everybody in County Kildare.
As the Senator rightly said, the project involves planning permission, for which an application is expected to be submitted very soon. In establishing the community nursing unit programme, the Government’s intention is to secure the future of public provision of residential care through investment in up to 90 centres throughout the country.
The overall development at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Athy, will deliver 95 replacement community nursing unit beds with the accommodation in line with current standards.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the vulnerabilities of older people living in long-term residential care. It is critical that public investment in this infrastructure is maintained and that the appropriate standards are met for those who avail of this type of care. The ongoing successful implementation of the community nursing unit programme, including the ongoing development at St. Vincent’s Hospital, will contribute to achieving this goal.
The project for a replacement of the 95-bed unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital will be completed in two phases with a 50-bed unit to be delivered as part of the first construction phase. The development of this project has been included in the capital programme 2022. The good news, as the Senator will note, is that an application for planning permission is expected to be submitted in quarter 1 of this year.
I thank the Minister of State.