I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me raise this important matter, namely, the need for the Minister for Health and Children, to ensure that after a wait of 12 years, a full complement of appropriate services for secondary care facilities is provided under phase 2B of Longford-Westmeath hospital, Mullingar, County Westmeath, and to ensure patient safety and best possible outcomes.
We have heard many times that the Government is committed to ensuring the delivery of best quality health services in an effective and efficient manner. The Minister for Community, Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, said those very words when speaking in the House last December on behalf of the Minister for Health and Children. How efficient is it to string along a hospital such as Longford-Westmeath hospital for more than 12 years with phases and sub-phases of the development being delivered piecemeal? With an ever-extending deadline, it is open to debate.
As a former Member of the other House and as a Member of this House I have repeatedly raised the issue of this hospital but the bottom line is that the people of the midlands and myself are being ignored regarding the provision of essential health facilities. In common with the rest of the BMW region, Longford-Westmeath has been consistently overlooked by this Government in terms of health and infrastructural development. Despite the setbacks, Longford-Westmeath hospital has been deemed one of the best performing hospitals in the country and the doctors, nurses and staff provide a very fine service under difficult circumstances. However, if the facilities are not available, patients' lives are put at risk and preventable fatalities can occur.
At the risk of boring the Minister of State, I will once again set out the key moments in what has been a 12-year struggle to see phase 2B of Longford-Westmeath hospital completed in the interests of patient care, safety and best possible outcomes. More than 12 years ago, €57 million was ring-fenced for new facilities at the hospital and a shell of the new building was opened in 1997 by the then Minister for Health, Deputy Michael Noonan. In 2003, despite the completion of the development control plan, the project was threatened by recommendations of the Hanly report and assurances from the current Minister that facilities would not be withdrawn fell on stony ground. In 2005, the Minister instructed the HSE to delay the development of the new facilities at the hospital, thereby threatening the safety of every man, woman and child in Longford-Westmeath. In 2006, €14 million was announced under phase 2B stage one but we should not lose sight of the fact that this was just one quarter of the original €57 million ring-fenced for the project over six years earlier.
In a supposedly new initiative, this was nothing more than the original amount being drip-fed but it was being heralded as a major boost for the hospital instead of being seen for what it was, a catch-up exercise to provide 45 beds in an already constructed unit. This was a long way from the initial promise which is on the record of this House and of the other House and on the record of the health board. The promise was to provide an operating theatre, an intensive care unit, a cardiac care unit, an acute psychiatric unit, an adolescent psychiatric unit, pathology department, occupational therapy unit, dermatology unit, an on-call accommodation and staff changing facilities and an optician unit.
Another delaying tactic was decreed by the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, under the value for money analysis that any project in the health sector costing more than €30 million could not proceed without a cost-benefit analysis being carried out. This was another stalling measure by the Minister and by this Government. Once again they are putting the health of the people of Longford-Westmeath under threat. Cancer services were withdrawn from Longford-Westmeath hospital last year in what was a major blow for the area and this left 600 patients forced to travel long distances to access treatment that should be available locally. I know of patients who leave their homes at 6 a.m. and do not return until 7.30 p.m.
The bottom line is that much has been promised but bar the drip-feeding of a small amount of the costing of the original project, nothing has come of the commitments. It is now more than time for the delivery of the full €57 million plus ring-fenced for this project to ensure safe and efficient delivery of services and best outcomes for the people of Longford-Westmeath and the midlands. I want a positive answer tonight and not another broken promise from the Minister.