asked the Minister for Health if he is aware of the growing concern prevailing in Mullingar, Westmeath, Longford and the midlands consequent on the proposal contained in the hospitals reorganisational plan which if implemented, will have the effect of downgrading Mullingar County Hospital; and that a public meeting representing all organisations in County Westmeath was held in the county buildings, Mullingar on Monday, 14th April, 1969, demanding that a general hospital be retained in Mullingar; and if he will now allay the fears of the people and give an assurance that a centre of such importance as Mullingar and its vast hinterland will not lose this most efficient and necessary medical and surgical unit.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Mullingar County Hospital.
I am aware of the interest being displayed by the people of the midlands, including Mullingar, in the future hospital services for the area. I have read a press report of the public meeting held in Mullingar on 14th April, 1969. As I indicated to the Deputy last December, I have accepted, in principle only at this stage, the plan of re-organisation in the Report of the Consultative Council on the General Hospital Services. The detailed recommendations in respect of individual hospitals will have to be carefully examined in consultation with the various interests concerned, before decisions are made on long-term developments.
As the council's recommendations involve considerable capital expenditure, they will have to be phased. A number of major projects have been accorded priority by the council and it will be necessary to get a clearer picture of how these urgent projects are developing before further commitments can be made.
If the people of this area have any fears about the future of their hospital services. I would like to assure them on two points: no radical change will be made without taking full account of their views; secondly, any change which may be made will be made for the purpose of improving the hospital facilities available.
Is the Minister aware that on the 12th December while he did use the words "in principle" when Deputy Tully stated "can be changed" the Minister said "I did not say that"? Is he aware that he told me on that day there would be no major surgery in Mullingar? Is he aware that on Friday, 17th January, 1969, in Athlone, he accepted the recommendation in full and said and I quote his words, that it would probably take eight to ten years to implement it and that Tullamore would be the hospital for that area? In view of what has already been stated, how can he now say that the people of Mullingar need not have any worries?
I did not say they need not have any worries. What I said was that they need not have any worries—that the sole interest of the council and my sole interest is to improve the services to the people of the Midlands as a whole. I do not know where Deputy L'Estrange got the report from which he read and I do not know that it is accurate. From my point of view, obviously it would be much easier to accept the recommendations in the report in their entirety and to implement them in the next ten or 15 years or whatever length of time it will take. I did not say or imply at any time that there would not be full consultation with all existing interests so as to ensure that the objects of the council would be achieved in the actual creation of general hospitals here and there throughout the country.
At a meeting in Athlone on 12th January the Minister did not say anything about full consultation. What I read from when I quoted the Minister was a minute taken by officials of Westmeath County Council.
It is not in order to quote from documents during questions.
The Minister asked me where I had got the quotation from and he said he was not sure it was correct. Is he aware that I also took a note of his statement and the only difference between my note and the minute of the council officials is that the Minister added he believed the people would get much better treatment in the regional hospital in Tullamore?
Was not that fair comment?
Perhaps it was but the Minister stated here that the hospital in Mullingar would go, and we want to retain our hospital in Mullingar.
The Minister spoke of phased development in regard to the spread of these general regional hospitals. Has he in mind any overall length of time in which this phased development may take place?
I am glad the Deputy asked that question. As the Deputy knows, I pointed out here that the council recommended certain developments as priorities and I think the reasons they gave for treating certain developments as priorities are valid. These will involve heavy capital expenditure, so obviously, even from the economic view point, it will take a considerable period of years before the recommendations of the council will be fully implemented. They envisaged a period of 15 years or so and it remains to be seen whether the financial resources and the mechanics of building and creating these hospitals will be sufficient to meet this deadline.
Will the Minister agree with me that when a report says 15 years it usually takes some 20 years or upwards to achieve this development?
I like to be optimistic.
Is it optimistic to suggest that it will take so many years to implement that part of the Health Act?
That is too complicated.
Is the Minister aware that a Westmeath County Council deputation went to his Department and that they were informed that the Midlands would have to wait eight to ten years? Did the Minister not say in Athlone that it would take eight to ten years?
I have no doubt that is so.
Yet the Minister now says that the people need not worry.
I am suggesting that Deputy L'Estrange is trying out some election propaganda.
Is it propaganda to say that the Health Bill should be implemented or does the Deputy ever want to see it implemented? He objects to making money available to implement it.
The Deputy is tied to the tail of Fine Gael like an old bucket.
I will deal with this matter in my reply to the Second Stage of the Health Bill. I should like to refer Deputy L'Estrange to some of the speeches made by certain members of his Party.
I know Deputy Oliver Flanagan wants the hospital in Tullamore and the Minister promised it to them in Tullamore a few weeks ago.
This is propaganda from first to last.