Hospital Services.

I raise this matter to clarify the position of the Minister for Health and Children and the Government in regard to their commitment to the ongoing development of Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown.

It is difficult to understand what is the attitude of the Health Service Executive and Professor Brendan Drumm to Connolly Hospital. Is it to be developed on a par with the other Dublin teaching hospitals, namely, Beaumont Hospital and the Mater Hospital or is it to be a Cinderella sister to the big Dublin teaching hospitals?

Connolly Hospital, situated as it is on the M50 and M3, serves a large part of Meath as well as Dublin 15, Cabra, the Navan Road and Finglas. Given the restriction of activities in Navan Hospital in particular there has been a surge in demand for the services of Connolly Hospital. Although the HSE has promised a new hospital for the north east it does not seem as though this will be developed and opened any time soon given the mess of our public finances. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, stated on the record that there is not a red cent available to develop it. The burden on Connolly Hospital is, therefore, likely to grow. Sufficient resources must be provided to meet the increased demand and to develop the hospital as a regional centre of medical excellence, which is what the Government previously promised.

I want the Minister to give a clear and unequivocal commitment that Connolly Hospital will receive the resources it needs, in particular in respect of accident and emergency services and modern imaging equipment. It is hard to believe that a modern hospital serving such a large population has to transport people to the new private Hermitage Medical Clinic in Liffey Valley, the Mater Hospital and Beaumont Hospital for MRI and CAT scans. These services are vitally important to ensure doctors can make an accurate diagnosis.

When I previously raised this matter in the Dáil I was told that a proposed co-located private hospital would be built on the grounds of Connolly Hospital. We were led to believe that a private hospital operator was insisting on having exclusive rights to the provision of modern imaging services such as CAT and MRI scans. We were told that Connolly Hospital, the public hospital and its patients must wait.

Given the current cost of bank borrowing, it seems likely that from a financial point of view, this particular co-location proposal is dead in the water. Must Connolly Hospital wait indefinitely for its MRI scanner? The Progressive Democrats Party is dead as a political party yet its policy of co-locating private hospitals lives on like a virus infecting the entire health system. Taxpayers in Dublin 15 and surrounding communities are getting a raw deal as a result.

Several million euro are wasted every year on transporting patients and their escorts in ambulances and taxis to have scans carried out in other hospitals in the Dublin area. A cost-benefit analysis of MRI and CT scans would show that it makes economic sense to invest in the hospital rather than continue the present inefficient practice of outsourcing basic services. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, promised that Connolly Memorial Hospital would be developed as a major regional hospital when he opened the new wing in 2005.

An on the record declaration of faith in the hospital and a commitment to adequate resourcing is now long overdue. Unless a clear commitment is made to Connolly Memorial Hospital regarding its equipment, accident and emergency services and excellent staff, patients will inevitably suffer. Plans are floating around the HSE for closing down accident and emergency units in the Dublin area, possibly including one on each of the north and the south sides of the city. I hope I will receive an assurance that the accident and emergency unit will be safe. Even if the private hospital development was to commence tomorrow, it will not be ready to open for at least three years. Despite the fact that Connolly Memorial Hospital serves a population of 240,000, it does not have the modern imaging equipment possessed by practically every rural hospital in Europe.

I will be taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I reiterate the Minister's continuing commitment to developing Connolly Memorial Hospital in a way that best meets the needs of patients. This commitment is underlined by the investment that we have made in the hospital in recent years. Phase one of the redevelopment of the hospital, which was completed at a cost of €107 million, provided accommodation for a modern accident and emergency department, including a minor injuries unit. This project also included the provision of theatres, intensive and critical care units, day surgery facilities, an acute psychiatric unit, a mental health day hospital and ward accommodation of approximately 180 replacement beds. The new emergency department has 23 cubicles, three chest pain assessment bays and three high observation areas. In 2007, the hospital received 32,000 emergency presentations resulting in the admission of 8,000 patients. In 2008, the hospital saw 28,000 emergency presentations and admitted 6,500 patients by October. The emergency department has approximately 100 staff including 53 nursing and 17 medical staff. Refurbishment of the surgical block was completed early in 2008 at a cost of €14.36 million and included a department of medicine for older people incorporating 56 replacement beds and day hospital and a medical day unit with endoscopy facilities and respiratory medicine department.

A range of diagnostic services are provided at the hospital and appointments are allocated on a priority basis based on clinical need. Urgent X-ray requests are processed either on the same day or within 24 hours, while urgent chest X-rays are seen on the same day. All ultrasound and barium study referrals are assessed by a consultant radiologist and allocated on a priority basis. With regard to urgent requests, the general practitioner contacts the consultant radiologist directly and the request is processed as soon as possible. The hospital received approval and funding in the order of €2.5 million for a replacement CT scanner. It is expected this will be operational in 2009.

All patients' clinical requirements for MRI are met through Beaumont hospital or the purchase of private capacity. There is no waiting list for this service. At present, the activity level generated by Connolly hospital for this service is below the required norms for an MRI. Diagnostic activity levels at the hospital are increasing, however, and the HSE will continue to monitor the situation with a view to developing increased capacity if required.

I thank Deputy Burton for raising this matter. I am happy to confirm that Connolly hospital continues to be an integral part of acute hospital services, as evidenced by the significant investment made in recent years in developing services.