Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Offaly Hospitals.

12.

asked the Minister for Health when tenders will be sought for the new geriatric unit in Tullamore hospital, County Offaly.

The timing of invitation of tenders for the geriatric unit is essentially a matter for the Offaly County Council once planning for the project has been completed.

I understand that planning is well advanced and that it should be finalised before the end of the year.

13.

asked the Minister for Health if any decision has yet been reached regarding the site for the new hospital to be built in the midland region of Offaly.

As I indicated last Wednesday in reply to Deputies Burke and Fox, who are interested in hospitals in other parts of the country, the reorganisation of the hospital system on the basis of the general principles of the Fitzgerald Report will take considerable time and will involve heavy capital expenditure. The first priority must be accorded to the pressing needs of Dublin and Cork and I have, therefore, not taken a decision on the detailed implementation of hospital changes in the midlands. As I said last week an interim improvement in the hospital arrangements outside the cities must be achieved principally through closer association by neighbouring hospitals including some sharing of medical staff. I have put this proposal to Offaly County Council and I look forward to their co-operation in implementing it.

Is the Minister aware that as Offaly is situated in the centre of the country it would be ideal to take cases from the west and the north?

In reply to the Deputy I am not speaking frivolously when I say that, naturally and humanly, a great many people in a great many areas consider their particular hospital is central to the area around it. On the basis of the Fitzgerald Report there are quite a number of towns in the midlands to be considered. A number of towns in the midlands can make the case that they should be the centre. If there is a modern hospital there, things can be argued one way or the other. Each pressure that is exercised has a contra effect on pressures from other areas. The Deputy will realise the difficulties that any Minister for Health will experience in making a final decision.

The Fitzgerald Report recommended Tullamore for a regional hospital; does the Minister accept that Tullamore is ideally situated?

I have not made any decisions in regard to the Fitzgerald Report on county hospitals. It is quite evident that the proposal in regard to Tullamore is one that has some validity; but if one accepts the pressures coming from other areas the case for a particular hospital being a centre alters, as I have already indicated. When one looks at the hospitals in the midland area — Kilkenny, Clonmel, Portlaoise, Tullamore, Mullingar and Roscommon—one can see there are plenty of headaches involved in making a decision and in trying to satisfy everybody.

(Cavan): Could the Minister give any indication as to when he is likely to make a decision on the proposals of the Fitzgerald Report concerning general hospitals?

The whole of the Fitzgerald Report with all its implications will have to be studied and it is impossible, therefore, for me to give a date.

(Cavan): Can the Minister say whether it will take months or years?

I could not make a final decision on the country areas within a year.

Would the Minister be prepared to take necessary steps to ensure that when these hospitals are erected they do not start to fall down as happened in Mayo?

The question relates to the midlands region of Offaly. This is not a general discussion on county hospitals.

I could not even speak about that particular case; it issub judice, as the Deputy knows.