I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this important matter for discussion. St. Vincent's Hospital in Athy can trace its history back to the opening of the Athy workhouse on 9 January 1844, an event that came just in time to relieve some of the harshest effects of the Famine in and around that area of south Kildare. The Sisters of Mercy arrived there as nursing sisters in 1873. In 1898, it became a county home.
St. Vincent's Hospital has a proud history in the care of older persons that is unrivalled among hospitals. The reputation of the staff of the hospital for the level of care offered is such that there is always a waiting list of families hoping to obtain a bed for their loved ones. One hears again and again from families about the level of care and attention their loved ones receive, or have received, in St. Vincent's Hospital, Athy. Indeed, families come from all over Kildare to avail of the services of the hospital. It is still one of the biggest employers in Athy and continues to be held in the highest regard by all of the town's population and those throughout the county who have had family members as patients there.
It was early in 2019 when we all received confirmation from the HSE that a design team had been appointed for the new hospital and that the HSE was working towards a stage 2 scheme design. The reply confirmed that planning permission would be sought in 2019. It was said at that time the new addition would provide St. Vincent's Hospital with the modern facilities of a new 50-bed unit to mark a 21st century healthcare system at a cost of approximately €9.3 million. Importantly, we were informed that the new hospital would result in a 50-bed unit built alongside the existing hospital where it was expected that 66 beds would be maintained, thus ensuring that all 116 beds in St. Vincent's would remain open and available to those who need them most. Subsequent inquiries with the HSE determined that some of these plans would be modified but that the new hospital was to proceed. Unfortunately, we are still awaiting its delivery.
St. Vincent's Hospital in Athy has stood on the site since 1844. Today it is a model of care with the best staff and management that any family could hope to have to look after their loved ones. I hope the Minister of State will confirm that the new facility will proceed and that despite the delays, this much-needed hospital for the older population of our county will be put back on track and delivered in the quickest possible timeframe. We all know our population is getting older. The outstanding services in St. Vincent's are needed. I sincerely hope the HSE and the Government recognise that and invest in this great facility which will hopefully be providing care for those who need it most for the next 175 years.