Health Board Services.

I am grateful to you, a Cheann Comhairle, for selecting this important topic. This concerns a health centre at Millbrook Lawns, a very populous area of my constituency, which provides a range of services like public health nursing, speech and language therapy, community welfare and home help, social work, addiction and general services and so on.

The premises itself is quite unsuitable for the service that it offers. Needless to remark, there is an enormous client base in the immediate environment of this health centre. The premises have been scheduled for demolition for some time and a new health centre scheduled to be built in the area. However, the reason I am in the House tonight is that four years ago, in June 1999, a fire occurred at these premises and nine rooms were burned down or seriously damaged, including a large waiting area and a storage facility. Believe it or not, four years later the premises have not been refurbished.

Quite frankly, I do not know if a health board that has permitted this to happen and tolerated this neglect over four long years is worthy of the name. I have not commented one way or another about anticipated imminent proposals about the abolition of health boards, but quite frankly, this health board ought to be demolished purely on the basis of its neglect of this health centre.

Four years on, the public health nurses are driven to protest behind a picket in order to give a voice to their grievance. They, in particular, have been very badly affected. They have lost three clinic rooms, one dressing room, one interview room and one baby changing room. They were allocated to temporary, unsuitable accommodation and found that their previous premises had been usurped by the addiction services. After considerable interaction with management, they were moved back into what is overcrowded and unsuitable office space. They were told this was for a temporary period of six months, that plans to build a new health centre were proceeding and that they should be prepared to tolerate impossible working conditions while that was happening.

Unfortunately, things have gone from bad to worse, and the facilities the people of the area so badly need are so constrained by the inadequacy of the conditions from which the professional and other staff must operate. It is absolutely imperative that we get some kind of answer from the Minister about why he is tolerating this situation and when the refurbishment of the premises will be initiated and completed.

The facilities are manifestly unsuitable for the purposes intended. There seems now to be a question mark over whether the new health centre is going ahead. The health board sold premises on the main street of Tallaght and realised considerable money from the sale. Yet, the money has not been put into a health centre in the middle of a hugely working class area where there is a very serious need for the services on offer. It is intolerable that staff be expected to function out of such a premises.

On the fourth anniversary of the fire, the nurses are driven to picket the place in an attempt to have proper services restored. I ask the Minister to give a commitment to the House that he will personally direct either that work immediately commences on the refurbishment of this health centre or that a commitment is given to the approval for the construction of a new health centre that is so badly needed in the area.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter to which I am happy to have the opportunity to respond. At the outset, I am acutely aware of the key role that the health centres play at community level in the delivery of a wide range of services to local populations. For many, the local health centre is the first point of contact with the health services. It is important, therefore, that the facilities are customer-friendly in terms of being modern, well-equipped and accessible.

I take this opportunity to underline the Government's commitment to the development of integrated community-based health and personal social services. Such development forms a central element of the recent health strategy and was elaborated on in the primary care strategy, Primary Care – A New Direction.

On the issue of health centre developments generally, the position is that the identification, prioritisation and provision of such facilities to meet the needs of local communities within its functional area is a matter for the relevant health board or the Eastern Regional Health Authority. In the case of Millbrook Lawns, this responsibility rests with the ERHA. I have been advised by the ERHA that since the fire in 1999, various repairs and improvements have taken place. These include the internal and external painting of the premises, roof repairs, increased parking, enhanced security measures, new fire alarm, additional public toilets as well as new office space for nursing, social work, community welfare and speech and language services. In fact, a health and safety audit conducted in November 2002 noted significant improvements since the previous inspection and further recommendations from this recent audit are being actively addressed.

The re-development of the centre is a priority capital project for the South West Area Board and submissions to obtain the necessary funding have been made to the ERHA. The South West Area Board continues to work with the ERHA on this matter. However, any such proposals would, in the first instance, have to be considered by the ERHA in the context of its overall priorities for capital developments and in line with funding resources available under the national development plan.

Local management and staff have met on a number of occasions to discuss concerns in relation to current facilities and the development of a new centre. These discussions will continue to ensure that conditions in the existing centre are maintained to a satisfactory level and that the effective delivery of services to the public continues. Currently, the existing health centre provides a comprehensive range of community based health and personal services including public health nursing, developmental clinics, dental, speech and language therapy, community welfare, home help, social work and addiction services. Pre-school services are also provided.

It is planned to relocate the addiction services before the end of 2003. All capital requirements for the health boards, including the ERHA, are funded under the national development plan. The Department of Health and Children is at present reviewing, from a national perspective, the national development plan for each health board.

This process encompasses providing for existing capital contractual commitments and, where possible, the planning or construction of new projects this year and into the future. It is in this context that capital developments for the ERHA are being considered. The Department fully appreciates the importance of progressing such developments and will continue to work closely with the authority regarding prioritising its overall capital needs in line with the funding resources under the NDP.

What does all that mean? Is there any hope of the centre being refurbished?

As the man said, if the Deputy does not understand English—

I understand English perfectly, but this is gobbledegook.

There is no provision for supplementary questions.