Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Tullamore Hospital.

9.

asked the Minister for Health what plans he has in mind to relieve overcrowding in the County Hospital, Tullamore, County Offaly.

As the Deputy will, of course, be aware work is well advanced on the building of a 100-bed extension to the hospital to cater for the aged sick and so enabling unsatisfactory accommodation at the county home to be vacated. A secondary benefit of this extension to the county hospital will be that it will facilitate flexible use of the overall medical accommodation for the treatment of aged patients at the different phases of their illness and recovery. I understand from the Midland Health Board that a small excess of patients has had to be accommodated in recent months but that there is no question of serious continuing overcrowding.

Would the Minister indicate what portion of his reply or the information contained in it, would not have been available on inquiry to the appropriate health board?

This is a question of grants that are made available from my Department for hospital schemes. We answer these questions. The questions I have not answered relate purely to individual cases that are totally under the authority of the health boards.

Surely the relief of overcrowding in the county hospital in Tullamore is a matter of primary concern to the health boards?

The question involves a national grant towards capital construction in a health board area.

We note that this is the second question by a Fianna Fáil Deputy.

Two months ago the Minister refused to announce the increased rate demanded by the health boards. Why the change in attitude? Is it because Fianna Fáil Deputies asked the questions today?

Not at all. It is very difficult, I must admit, to separate questions.

What is the Minister's criterion?

I want members of the health boards and Deputies and everyone concerned to think of the health boards as very important bodies from which they should be able to get a great deal of information. If they have complaints in regard to the conduct of the health boards which can be examined by my Department, I shall be very glad to do so. It really is a process of decentralisation. It is in line with the proposals in the Devlin Report to have more executive authority given to local bodies. At some point one must draw the line where the Minister seems to have responsibility for matters which he has delegated to the health boards. I am not trying to escape from my obligations. I ask for the patience of the House in trying to get this principle accepted.

We understand the principle but what concerns us on this side of the House is that the principle does not seem to be put into operation in relation to Deputies sitting behind the Minister.

I have no intention of being discriminatory.

The Minister is on probation.

It is easier to separate the questioners than the questions.