Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Questions (49)

Anne Rabbitte


49. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Health the timeframe for the provision of primary care centres in Portumna, Gort and Headford, County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27815/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Health)

I wish to ask the Minister for Health the timeframe for the provision of primary care centres in Portumna, Gort and Headford in County Galway and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I am pleased to be able to inform the Deputy that the development of the primary care centres in Portumna, Gort and Headford is being progressed.

Planning permission has been obtained for the Portumna development, and the HSE expects to enter into a lease agreement with the developer in quarter 3 of this year, which is quite shortly.

Previous efforts to develop primary care centres in Gort and Headford have not been successful. However, Gort was included in a recent national advertisement seeking expressions of interest from developers for the delivery of the next tranche of 47 primary care centres. We have gone back to the market through advertisement. Submissions have now been received by the HSE and they are currently being considered. The Headford site was re-advertised locally in 2018, and the project has since progressed to a stage at which short-listed candidates have been invited to submit a priced offer.

Unfortunately, it is not possible at this stage to provide an estimated operational date for any of the three centres. Nonetheless, the HSE and the primary care sector are very determined to deliver on these projects. There are now 127 primary care centres in operation across the country, and a further nine are expected to open in 2019. I am aware, however, of how important the three in question are to the people of Galway East. The Deputy has raised this with me on an ongoing basis. We now have the planning permission for Portumna, and we will have the lease agreement in quarter 3. Gort will, I hope, attract some interest through the current expression-of-interest process, and suitable candidates have now been short-listed for Headford. I will undertake to revert to the Deputy on all three as we continue to see progress on them.

I thank the Minister for his response. It is very welcome because, as he knows, throughout the whole county there are only five primary care centres. It is important, therefore, to have primary care centres spread not just across Galway East but also across the rest of the county.

My main concern about primary care centres is probably related to the fact that Galway is such a large county. The centres in Loughrea, Athenry and Tuam are very welcome. This time last year, the Minister and I were at the opening of the primary care centre in Tuam. It was very welcome but, at the time, it appeared that the X-ray department was omitted from the original plans. While it is not within the scope of my question, what is the current position on the X-ray department at the Tuam site? It is important to the people of the area.

I thank Deputy Rabbitte. She is correct that we had an excellent day at the Tuam primary care centre. It is a really state-of-the-art centre of which I am aware the community in Tuam is very proud. There are now requests from that primary care centre to put in X-ray facilities. This is the next big step. We have over 120 primary care centres open. The big prize is getting the diagnostic facilities into the centres with the appropriate populations. That obviously keeps people out of hospital. I saw centres in Athlone and Castlebar recently that resulted in incredible redirection of people from the hospital setting to primary care. The HSE is working locally to secure capital for the Tuam X-ray facility. This is not covered in the Deputy's question so I will have to revert to the Deputy directly in regard to it.

With regard to Galway, there are now primary care centres operational in Tuam, Mountbellew, Loughrea, Athenry, Galway city east, the Aran Islands, Ballinasloe and Moycullen. The centre in Inishbofin is now under way. The one for Portumna is in early planning, as are those for Oranmore and Moycullen. Another, for Galway city west, is in early planning. Headford is at stage 3 of the operational lease process, and the price offer has been submitted. For Gort, we sought interest through national advertisement on 3 May. Therefore, we have a quite ambitious programme for primary care centres for Galway. I understand, however, particularly from a geographical point of view, the importance of the three in question. I will keep in touch with the Deputy.

I am glad the Minister addressed in his response the matter of diagnostics. Just before I came here, I got figures on orthodontic and dental care. We want more primary care centres and further expansion because it is hard to believe that in County Galway, over 14,000 children have been waiting for dental screening for more than 12 months. Considering that anaesthetics are involved, we must remember those who are waiting are in pain. There are 58 young people waiting more than 52 weeks to have a filling or a tooth removed. That is hard to believe. If in pain, we would like to have the tooth removed. It would be beneficial to have diagnostic facilities attached to primary care centres. Maybe we have such long waiting lists because people are working and cannot get time off to bring their kids to the city centre, to Newcastle. Therefore, the opening of more primary care centres with attached diagnostic facilities would be very welcome.

On the broader issue of dental services in the country, as the Deputy probably knows, I launched our new dental strategy, Smile agus Sláinte, a couple of weeks ago. The previous dental strategy was published in 1994 and was working from dental data from the 1980s. Another reason we end up with such dental difficulties is cost. Regarding the plan to roll out free dental care to children, children are currently seen only on a couple of occasions in primary school. Therefore, trying to expand free dental care to children, starting with the under-sixes, will also be a budget priority for me.

The Deputy is correct that collectively, her party and mine have invested an awful lot in trying to roll out primary care centres. Fine Gael is doing so with its Independent colleagues in government on this occasion. We also need to make sure we put the diagnostic facilities in place so we can take people out of the hospital setting.