I thank the Deputies for raising this issue. Deputy Tom Fleming, in particular, has always had an interest in it and this is not the only forum in which we have discussed it.
Cystic fibrosis is the most common life-threatening inherited disease in Ireland. I am acutely aware of the challenges facing people with cystic fibrosis and their families in managing their condition. I fully acknowledge the need for dedicated accommodation for appropriate isolation and better infection control. Where inpatient treatment is required for people with cystic fibrosis, it should be in single en suite rooms, as these patients need to avoid possible sources of infection. At the same time, however, we must aim to minimise hospital admissions and instead treat patients on a day-care basis as close to home as possible.
There has been significant investment in treatment and services in the past few years. It includes the €29 million unit at St. Vincent's University Hospital, a new outpatient unit at Beaumont hospital, a paediatric outpatient unit in Galway and a paediatric day unit in County Mayo. In addition, we have developed newborn screening services and provide the cystic fibrosis drug ivacaftor, Kalydeco.
The Government welcomes the completion of the new 20 bed cystic fibrosis and respiratory unit at Cork University Hospital. This unit, with single bedrooms and state-of-the-art infection controls, will be a great boost for cystic fibrosis patients and their families in the region. I commend Build4Life and Mr. Joe Browne for raising €2.3 million for the project. It is a tremendous achievement and I am pleased that the Department of Health was able to support it through the provision of national lottery funding of €300,000.
I also welcome the start of construction of new paediatric cystic fibrosis facilities at Cork University Hospital. I understand the current unit moved temporarily in June to allow work to begin. I am, of course, aware of concerns about delays in opening the new inpatient unit at the hospital. I am advised that while it has been completed and fitted out, there are difficulties in staffing the unit. Recruitment of nurses is an issue not just for Cork University Hospital but also nationally and internationally. I have been assured that Cork University Hospital is actively recruiting nursing staff and will open the unit as soon as it can be safely and effectively staffed. The National Recruitment Service has been asked to prioritise the issue. Unfortunately, it is not possible simply to move staff from other areas of the hospital. Cystic fibrosis units have a higher nursing requirement and require dedicated staff. Consequently, to open the new unit in Cork University Hospital would require staff reductions in other areas and this would necessitate bed closures. I am sure none of the Deputies would like this to happen, as it would affect patient flow and access and would have a serious impact on the emergency department.
I fully recognise the disappointment of Build4Life, as this is a personal and heartfelt project for it. The Government fully acknowledges the work it has put in and its frustration at the delay in opening the unit. Nobody wants the opening of this upgraded service to be delayed. However, the House must accept that patient safety cannot be compromised and, therefore, the unit cannot open until it is safe to do so. I have asked the CEO of the South/South-West Hospital Group to keep me informed of progress in the opening of the unit and have urged that the issue be resolved as a priority.
As Deputy Tom Fleming and others will know, I have taken a personal interest in this issue. When there was an impasse, we managed with cool heads and dedication to ensure the project would proceed. We managed to have the ward reconfigured. Its state-of-the-art status is incredible. I have been told that there are approximately 40 nursing vacancies in Cork University Hospital. If any nurse was to walk in the door of the hospital today, he or she would be offered a contract and a job. It is not an issue of financial resources but of an inability to recruit. The difficult is not ours alone; it is also an issue across a range of areas. I am hopeful, however, that the unit will be opened as soon as possible. It is a priority not just for me but also for those charged with recruiting nurses to ensure it this will happen.