I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me this opportunity to raise a most important issue that has arisen on foot of the HIQA report into a possible outbreak of legionnaires' disease at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. Legionnaires' disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia which can affect anybody but which principally affects those who are susceptible because of age, illness, immunosuppression or smoking. Legionella bacteria are found in many types of water systems. They multiply in warm and stagnant water such as that found in air conditioning cooling towers and certain plumbing systems, especially showers. Approximately ten cases are reported in Ireland each year on average. This HIQA report is very worrying for the patients and staff at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.
I would like to take this opportunity to ask the Minister of State a number of questions. How often are the water systems at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and other hospitals in the country checked in order that the threat of Legionnaire's disease can be prevented? What immediate action is the Minister taking in relation to the legionnaires' disease outbreak at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital? On a national level, how does this country deal with an outbreak of legionnaires' disease? What are the contingency plans? What are the roles of hospital management and the Department of Health? What are the protocols for dealing with legionnaires' disease? How do we deal with problems facing Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital? Where is the Minister's five-point plan for hospitals generally?
I am aware that we have a general election coming up. I do not doubt that promises will be made. I urge the Minister of State to find a workable solution to the problems at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. It is basic common sense. The HIQA report states that shower heads were removed from patient bathrooms 18 months ago and not replaced. This is simply not good enough. I concur wholeheartedly with the statement in the HIQA report that it is "essential that management of legionella risk at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda is effectively managed, with a particular focus placed upon protecting patients who may be especially vulnerable to infection". There is a need for further care for the patients of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. Just last week, I spoke in the Chamber about the crisis in the hospital's emergency area. This week the issue is different. The hospital seems to be continually in the news for one reason or another.
I put it to the Minister of State, Deputy English, that we need an action plan for Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. We cannot continue to play politics with people’s lives. The Minister of State is well aware that the total population of the two counties served by this major hospital - my county and his county - is approximately 300,000. In addition, many people from north County Dublin and counties Monaghan and Cavan come to Drogheda in emergency circumstances. We need action in this regard. I am sure capital expenditure is required with regard to the plumbing system. I recognise that some money has been spent on it over a period of time. It is quite clear that more money needs to be spent. It is unsatisfactory that the shower units do not have a proper dispersal system at the end. It is certainly not suitable for the people in the hospital who are using them. This sends out the wrong message and needs to be addressed. If additional capital is required to address the issue, the Government should provide it immediately.