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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 6 Feb 2003

Vol. 171 No. 5

Adjournment Matters. - Health Centres.

I wish to discuss the provision of a primary health care centre in Mulhuddart and thank the Minister of State for attending to address the matter. We have spoken about providing such a centre for some time and people living in the area are extremely concerned at the delay in delivering it. It is a priority for the Blanchardstown RAPID team, which is supposed to deliver facilities for the area, and a faciltiy for which the Northern Area Health Board has developed plans.

Mulhuddart has been badly neglected for many years. As the Minister of State knows, it has three times the national average number of lone parents. It also has a large number of young people leaving school at an early age, 50 times the national average. The area has no general practitioner, pharmacy or dental service. It was built in the 1970s and still lacks these essential services in 2003. Therefore, there is a huge need for a primary health care centre.

It is time we recognised the lack of facilities and delivered for the people. The area has a population of approximately 2,500 which will rise to about 10,000 given the current and proposed developments to come on stream. I look forward to the response of the Minister of State which I hope will be positive.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter and I am happy to have the opportunity to respond.

I am aware that primary care is the first port of call for the majority of those who use health services. It is right to acknowledge the key role a health centre has in delivering a wide range of community health and personal social services. It is important that such facilities are customer-friendly in terms of being modern, well equipped and accessible.

My Department is committed to the development of primary care services. Since the primary care strategy, Primary Care – A New Direction, was launched the Department has been involved in putting in place a number of essential building blocks to support the process of implementation. A small primary care task force has been established, drawn from the Department and the health boards. In line with the role set out for this group in the strategy, it has responsibility for driving the implementation of the changes and developments set out in the model.

The task force has engaged with and will continue to work with a range of interests concerning how the strategy will be implemented. It has met the health boards and, in several cases, representatives of key service providers at regional level. In order to begin the process of implementation of the new primary care model, the task force prioritised the selection of locations for a number of initial primary care implementation projects. In October 2002 approval was given to the first ten such projects which will build on the services and resources already in place in the ten locations involved to develop, over the coming months, a primary care team in line with the inter-disciplinary model described in the strategy.

The provision of primary health care centres, including the prioritisation of the development of such centres, to meet the needs of local communities is a matter for the relevant health board or the ERHA in line with funding available under the national development plan. In the case of the Mulhuddart area, responsibility rests with the ERHA. In the light of what the Senator said, I support the desire for appropriate infrastructural developments in an area. It is necessary to work hand in hand with the local authority, health service providers and other statutory operators to ensure the appropriate supports are in place.

The ERHA acknowledges the need for a major primary health care centre to serve the growing populations of Ladyswell, Mulhuddart and Corduff. It advises me that Fingal County Council has provided a two bedroom house that will be used as a GP surgery while there is a small health centre in Corduff. In the Mulhuddart area the Northern Area Health Board rents three houses from Fingal County Council, one of which is in Dromheath and used to provide child health services, drugs services and counselling services. The others are located in Wellview and used as a family resource centre. All other primary health and personal social services provision is dealt with through Roselawn Health Centre, Lower Roselawn Road. Mulhuddart has been highlighted in the national spatial strategy as a key development area. It has also been included in the RAPID programme.

The local authority has indicated that the development of a new health centre is a regional priority in the context of currently inadequate local infrastructure and major population growth in the Mulhuddart area. Unfortunately, given other commitments within the community health service infrastructure, the ERHA is unable to proceed with the development at this stage. All capital development by health boards, including the ERHA, is funded through the national development plan. Since the commencement of the plan there has been significant investment throughout the health service, including the community health sector. The Department of Health and Children is reviewing from a national perspective the NDP for each health board, including the ERHA, in the light of the outturn position for 2002. This process encompasses provision for existing capital contractual commitments and, where possible, the planning or construction of new projects nationally in 2003 or beyond. It is in this context that capital developments for the ERHA are being considered. My Department fully appreciates the importance of progressing such developments and will continue to work closely with the authority in relation to prioritising its overall capital needs in line with the funding resources available under the NDP.

I am very disappointed with the Minister of State's response. This area has been neglected for years and is being put off again. What is the point of inclusion in the RAPID programme when it has delivered nothing to the area? This is not good news for the people of Mulhuddart. I am annoyed by the response, though obviously it is not the fault of the Minister of State whom I ask to push the delivery of the centre for Mulhuddart. It is needed as soon as possible given that it is already years behind schedule. As the matter is urgent, I ask the Minister of State to make it a priority.

I will be happy to find out what can be done for the growing population of Mulhuddart. It is important not to blame my Department for the lack of an appropriate facility to meet demands which are the result of planning by public representatives at local authority level in Fingal County Council, some of whom, I am sure, were members of the Senator's party. They failed to ensure there would be appropriate infrastructure available to meet the needs of the prospective population of the housing developments they were planning. In that context, I am sure the Senator is as satisfied as I am that the national spatial strategy has been put in place, among other provisions. These will ensure what we have witnessed in the past will not recur in future growth and development of densely populated areas. While we recognise that there is a lack of appropriate structures, the Senator can rest assured—

Does the Minister of State blame the local authorities for this?

We need people to work together. I am satisfied that will now happen in the provision of services.