This is an extremely important issue. I am pleased to have this opportunity to raise it and I thank the Minister for Health for being present to respond to this issue.
The need for more beds to be provided in Beaumont Hospital for cystic fibrosis patients is an urgent issue. I welcome the substantial advancement of services for cystic fibrosis patients in Dublin in recent years. Along with the opening of the outpatient facility at Beaumont Hospital, a dedicated cystic fibrosis unit at St. Vincent's University Hospital opened in 2012, and newborn screening for the disease has been rolled out nationwide. That is very much to be welcomed.
Beaumont Hospital is one of three major centres in Ireland for adults with cystic fibrosis but currently there is a shortage of inpatient facilities for patients with the disease. I am concerned that those who require a bed may not be able to access one and may have to wait at home until one becomes available. Alternatively, patients may have to access a bed on a ward if there is no dedicated bed available, increasing the chance of infection. There are concerns that the current situation results in the most severe cases of cystic fibrosis being prioritised while those with less severe symptoms are at risk of not getting the full treatment they require, which in turn has a negative impact on their condition.
There are approximately 120 patients with cystic fibrosis attending Beaumont Hospital at present and this number is likely to increase. We know that Ireland has the highest rate of cystic fibrosis in the world, with approximately 50 new cases diagnosed each year. The incidence of the disease in Ireland is four times higher than in the US and the rest of the European Union.
Beaumont Hospital opened a new purpose-built, dedicated outpatient facility at Beaumont for patients with cystic fibrosis in 2010, enabling patients to be treated on a day-care basis. The 2,500 square foot purpose-built unit provides invaluable services to cystic fibrosis patients, including outpatient clinics, a drop-in centre for clinical assessments and the provision of treatments that would otherwise require hospitalisation, including infusions and antibiotic therapies, psychology, physiotherapy and dietetics. Thankfully, the care provided at the new centre means that fewer cystic fibrosis patients are being admitted as inpatients via the emergency department, which is helping to minimise the risk of exposure to possible sources of infection.
However, there are currently only four isolation rooms available for cystic fibrosis patients at the hospital. Isolation rooms are vitally important for cystic fibrosis patients; they contribute to better health and prolong life expectancy as there is no risk of infection from other patients in the hospital or in the room. Constituents have raised concerns with me that the four isolation rooms currently available are permanently needed and filled with patients waiting for an immediate transplant and that more beds are desperately needed.
Cystic Fibrosis Ireland has been campaigning for quite a number of years regarding the need for more beds. Its campaign, Beds for Beaumont, seeks to raise €12.5 million to provide for at least 12 inpatient isolation rooms to accommodate more patients at the hospital. I am pleased to confirm that the area manager of the HSE in north Dublin advised me recently that the HSE recognises that there is a need for more inpatient single-room accommodation for cystic fibrosis patients at Beaumont Hospital and that it is going to put forward a business case. Can the Minister advise whether this is one of his priorities and, as he represents north Dublin, that this area will be urgently examined?