The capital programme for health projects, approved by the previous Government, included provision for a badly needed extension to the emergency department at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, my local hospital. The hospital has been synonymous with serious overcrowding. This project, worth more than €20 million, was a welcome addition to the health infrastructure in the area and was welcomed by the hard-working staff at the hospital and by the patients.
The project involves a four storey extension, 9,000 m2 which included the addition of additional theatre space, and of 83 inpatient beds. Nowhere in the country is this facility more needed. Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital is the de facto regional hospital and serves a rapidly growing area, Louth, Meath, Cavan, Monaghan and Fingal. The emergency department, ED, needs all the facilities, equipment and staff that a modern department needs to allow it function to the maximum. One such critical facility is an X-ray room. I was alarmed to learn this week that the plans to include a new X-ray facility at the expanded ED have been ditched in what appears to be a cost-cutting exercise. To add insult to injury, this appears to have been a unilateral decision that was taken without any consultation whatsoever with front-line staff at the hospital.
The new section opened this week but the bird is in effect flying on one wing. The space is there and the full expectation was that the new X-ray room would be provided but it was pulled at the 11th hour. Now we have a spanking new emergency department extension in Drogheda but no additional X-ray room. The existing X-ray room processes 53,000 images annually. Patient figures for throughput at the new emergency department extension would suggest that there would be an annual increase of 5% in patients going through that facility year on year for the foreseeable future. The existing room is operating above capacity. EDs of a similar scale in Limerick and Cork deal with 49,000 and 42,000 images, respectively, annually. The figures speak for themselves.
The Lourdes needs a second X-ray room in ED. It is not too late in the building project to revisit this and for the sake of the €1 million that I understand it would cost, the new room needs to be built now. If it is not, the good work done by staff and management at the hospital in recent years to address the overcrowding problems will be compromised. Patients will suffer as, to paraphrase the Taoiseach, a hospital cannot function at full whack if it does not have the full diagnostic capacity to move people through the system efficiently and get them well as quickly as possible. The space is there and it will be impossible to retrofit a new X-ray room into the ED building. This has to be reviewed. It is a short-sighted decision to pull this project now, a decision made by the bean counters in the HSE and it must be reversed.