4. Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Health the specific services that will be provided under the new schedule with particular reference to the day hospital, diagnostics, community care and minor injuries units further to his commitment to fully reopen Our Lady’s hospital, Cashel; and the timeframe involved in bringing the accommodation and facilities at the hospital back into full use. (Question 6472/18 asked on 08 Feb 2018)

Deputy Michael Lowry: I appreciated the Minister’s commitment on a visit to Cashel to reopen Our Lady’s County and Surgical Hospital.

Deputy Simon Harris: I thank the Deputy for asking this important question and for consistently raising the issue of how we can better use Our Lady’s hospital in Cashel to support the care needs of people in Tipperary while also working hand in glove with what is being done in Clonmel. I am pleased that we are making progress on the modular build in Clonmel. The next phase must determine what more can be done in Cashel. If we can get the investment in Clonmel with its extra 40-bed modular unit right, consider how to build a permanent extension to that hospital and then complement that by providing more services in Cashel that would alleviate pressure on Clonmel, we can make a meaningful difference to health services for the people of Tipperary. This is something for which Deputy Lowry has been advocating for some time.

With the Deputy and other Oireachtas colleagues, I visited Our Lady’s hospital in Cashel on 13 September last year. It was clear that there was considerable potential to provide additional services that could benefit not only that community, but also Clonmel by alleviating pressure in its hospital. The campus in Cashel provides a wide range of services, from those operating on a 24-7 basis to those that use the campus as a base to provide care in peoples’ homes. Community services play a significant role in supporting older adults living at home and those who have been discharged from hospital with ongoing non-acute care needs, and also in preventing admissions to hospital in the first place.

HSE social care works closely with its colleagues in South Tipperary General Hospital to facilitate hospital discharges as appropriate. In terms of getting people home, many of these services are based in Cashel.

As a result of my visit with Deputy Lowry to Cashel, I allocated €450,000 for this year to develop community services for older people in south Tipperary further. That money is in addition to funding that I have provided for a 40-bed modular extension to South Tipperary General Hospital. With this additional funding, the HSE at local level is working on a plan to deliver a further range of services in Cashel to support older people in the south Tipperary area. I will provide the Deputy with more details in a moment.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): I thank the Minister. He will have that opportunity.

Deputy Michael Lowry: A task force is working within the HSE against the background of three empty wards in the hospital. That unit is capable of holding 35 beds. It has been refurbished at a cost to the HSE of approximately €13 million, but it is unoccupied. This is happening in Cashel when, down the road in Clonmel, there are trolleys in a corridor. It does not make sense that we are not maximising the potential of this vacant unit.

I appreciate that the Minister had been helpful and has taken practical steps with funding to alleviate the problems with our health services in Clonmel and Cashel, but what types and levels of service will be provided by the community hospital at Our Lady’s hospital? Will the Minister be specific as regards what he intends to do with the hospital?

Deputy Simon Harris: Absolutely. A number of services are being provided there in the form of the minor injuries unit, community intervention teams, primary care teams, community mental health services, disability services, outreach services provided by the Irish Wheelchair Association, a substance misuse team, home care services, acquired brain injury services, catering for the St. Patrick’s Hospital campus, which is across the road, and a 24-7 ambulance station.

Now that I have supplied the funding, I have asked the HSE to identify what further services can be provided locally utilising the empty space in Cashel to alleviate pressure in Clonmel and provide greater services in Tipperary. The HSE is specifically considering services for older people as well as rehabilitative services. It tells me that it is drawing up a plan to develop a further range of services to support older people and that the overall model will be discussed in collaboration with relevant stakeholders locally, in which respect I will ask the HSE to liaise with the Deputy. In particular, it is considering the expansion of rehabilitation programmes. If more such programmes can be run in Cashel, people can be discharged from Clonmel earlier. With the 40 beds that we are putting into Clonmel plus those services in Cashel, we can make a real difference.

Deputy Michael Lowry: I agree with the Minister’s approach. I understand that whatever services we provide in Cashel will help to alleviate the pressure on Clonmel hospital. It is important there would be a high level of liaison and co-operation between South Tipperary General Hospital and Our Lady’s Hospital in Cashel. We are all anxious to know in what way and to what extent will the newly established services at Our Lady’s Hospital relieve pressure on South Tipperary General Hospital.

What is the current position regarding the modular unit? I know it is in the tendering process and significant progress has been made. What is the up to date position on the provision of that unit?

Deputy Simon Harris: The Deputy is right. When I went to Cashel I was annoyed to see the potential that there is in that facility is not being fully utilised when there is clear pressure on South Tipperary General Hospital. Therefore, we need joined-up thinking. As a result of working with the Deputy and others, I have asked the HSE to look at Cashel and Clonmel hospitals together to see what services can most appropriately be provided there. The key area it is examining is rehabilitation and services for our older people. We do not want older people in particular to be in a busy acute hospital if we can provide services for them in a more comfortable and appropriate environment.

I will get the Deputy a specific update as to exactly where the modular unit is at. I am very clear on this. We have provided significant funding for the delivery of this unit. I know people, including the consultants and management in the hospital, have been working very hard. I want and need this unit delivered for the people of south Tipperary to ensure those 40 beds are in place well in advance of next winter, which would alleviate the pressure on the hospital. I will keep in touch with the Deputy on that.