I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of health care in Louth. The Government has a policy of investment and reform in our health services and that is a policy I endorse. I want to see a world-class health service and I want to see Louth benefit from that service.
While the population of the State has increased by around 16% over the past ten years, the increase in Louth has been in the order of 20%. When we factor in that much of the environs of Drogheda are in Meath, the population increase is even more notable. The population of that county has increased by almost half since 1996 and this too impacts on health services in Louth.
We need to see a full range of health facilities in Louth County Hospital and in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, though I fully acknowledge the progress that has been made since 1997. In Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, staff numbers have increased by 47%, the number of casualty cases dealt with has risen by 30%, and day cases have increased by 108%. This was made possible with a more than four-fold increase in funding over the period. Since 1997 at Louth County Hospital in Dundalk, staff levels have increased by 44% and day cases have increased by 132%. This was possible due to significant increases in resources. However, there remains a need to expand services in Louth. For example, I would like to see the provision of the new accident and emergency extension in Drogheda being accelerated.
While there have been significant improvements in accident and emergency wards around the country, the accident and emergency service in Drogheda continues to lag behind and there are frequent complaints about waiting times for people in need of those facilities. I know there are also plans for a new regional hospital in the future but that is some way off. We want to see more progress now in the existing hospitals.
There are great plans to expand primary care in Ardee, Drogheda and Dundalk and I want to see the provision of these services speeded up. There is concern that the Health Service Executive may be inclined to reconfigure services in the years ahead and I want to make it clear that any diminution in health services in Louth will be strongly opposed.
As I said, Louth is an expanding county and must see expanding health services. I hope the Minister can assure me tonight that continued investment and improvement will be at the heart of health policy in Louth.