Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Hospital Children's Unit.

8.

asked the Minister for Health if he has any plans to open the children's unit at Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, County Meath; the reason for the delay in this case; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The question of the children's orthopaedic unit at Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, is primarily a matter for the North-Eastern Health Board. I understand that the board have the matter under active consideration but some problems have arisen in relation to the provision of consultation paediatric cover for the unit. I would be hopeful that the board can resolve the difficulties at an early date.

I would express disappointment at the Minister's response, considering the devastation that has been caused in the North-Eastern Health Board area by funding cuts. Is the Minister aware that conditions are so bad now that local doctors have indicated their horror at the lack of hospital services in County Meath in particular because of health cuts imposed upon the North-Eastern Health Board?

This question refers to a children's unit.

I am not so aware but I am surprised that, having listened to my answer to the question, Deputy Howlin takes the line he does, because this is a matter of making sure that there is paediatric cover available in the paediatric-orthopaedic unit. It is not a question of the availability of facilities because a facility is there; nor is it a question of the availability of orthopaedic surgeons but of the availability of paediatric cover for the particular unit.

Would the Minister indicate the particular difficulty that exists in regard to obtaining paediatric cover? Is it that there are not sufficient paediatricians prepared to live in the vicinity or is there some other problem? Can he give me an assurance that finance is in no way a contributory factor to the difficulty in obtaining this cover?

The main problem is the question of whether there should be a change in the paediatric unit in that paediatric-orthopaedic services might be carried out in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, about 20 miles away or less, and that adults would use that particular ward.

Would the Minister indicate if the delay in the establishment of the paediatric unit is related to plans to shift part of the orthopaedic facilities in Navan to Drogheda?

As I have said in reply to the question, this is primarily a matter for the North-Eastern Health Board. The question arises about having paediatric cover available. What the board have to decide is how can that best be provided. Can it be best provided by appointing a paediatrician in Navan or can it be best provided by having the paediatric-orthopaedic services carried out in a hospital that has already a very active and viable paediatric unit with two paediatric consultants available? That is the question that arises and it is a matter for the health board to decide.

For reasons of clarity may I ask the Minister again if there is a decision in relation to the provision of the paediatric service. Is it simply that there is an administrative or a personnel difficulty in finding somebody suitable to provide the service, or is the difficulty a matter of deciding whether the service should exist in that hospital?

There is no difficulty about the need for a specific service for children. At present children who need orthopaedic surgery are in the adult wards in Our Lady's Hospital, Navan. We would all agree that that is not the ideal. The question is how is the best way to provide that orthopaedic surgery for children ensuring that there will be paediatric cover available.

Is it not the case that the Minister has received a submission from the health board which is awaiting his decision in regard to the dispersal of orthopaedic facilities in the north-eastern region, and that it is he who is responsible for this situation and the uncertainties arising from it? Would he indicate if that is the case? Is it his view, and if not I believe it should be, that orthopaedics should be concentrated for the north-eastern region in Navan where there is already a well established regional centre with expertise in orthopaedics?

I have an open mind on that question. I certainly believe that the orthopaedic services in the main should be concentrated in Navan. I would point out to Deputy Bruton, as he is aware, that one of the surgeons works out of the Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda already, therefore, there would be nothing new in having orthopaedics available in the international missionary training hospital in Drogheda. As of now, the regional surgical service is being carried out at two locations. That position will not change.

That is a new development as a result of an initiative by the Minister.

That is not a new development. Mr. Barry, the surgeon, has been in Drogheda for the past five or six years.