I thank the Senator for raising this matter and I am happy to have the opportunity to respond.
I am aware that primary care is the first port of call for the majority of those who use health services. It is right to acknowledge the key role a health centre has in delivering a wide range of community health and personal social services. It is important that such facilities are customer-friendly in terms of being modern, well equipped and accessible.
My Department is committed to the development of primary care services. Since the primary care strategy, Primary Care – A New Direction, was launched the Department has been involved in putting in place a number of essential building blocks to support the process of implementation. A small primary care task force has been established, drawn from the Department and the health boards. In line with the role set out for this group in the strategy, it has responsibility for driving the implementation of the changes and developments set out in the model.
The task force has engaged with and will continue to work with a range of interests concerning how the strategy will be implemented. It has met the health boards and, in several cases, representatives of key service providers at regional level. In order to begin the process of implementation of the new primary care model, the task force prioritised the selection of locations for a number of initial primary care implementation projects. In October 2002 approval was given to the first ten such projects which will build on the services and resources already in place in the ten locations involved to develop, over the coming months, a primary care team in line with the inter-disciplinary model described in the strategy.
The provision of primary health care centres, including the prioritisation of the development of such centres, to meet the needs of local communities is a matter for the relevant health board or the ERHA in line with funding available under the national development plan. In the case of the Mulhuddart area, responsibility rests with the ERHA. In the light of what the Senator said, I support the desire for appropriate infrastructural developments in an area. It is necessary to work hand in hand with the local authority, health service providers and other statutory operators to ensure the appropriate supports are in place.
The ERHA acknowledges the need for a major primary health care centre to serve the growing populations of Ladyswell, Mulhuddart and Corduff. It advises me that Fingal County Council has provided a two bedroom house that will be used as a GP surgery while there is a small health centre in Corduff. In the Mulhuddart area the Northern Area Health Board rents three houses from Fingal County Council, one of which is in Dromheath and used to provide child health services, drugs services and counselling services. The others are located in Wellview and used as a family resource centre. All other primary health and personal social services provision is dealt with through Roselawn Health Centre, Lower Roselawn Road. Mulhuddart has been highlighted in the national spatial strategy as a key development area. It has also been included in the RAPID programme.
The local authority has indicated that the development of a new health centre is a regional priority in the context of currently inadequate local infrastructure and major population growth in the Mulhuddart area. Unfortunately, given other commitments within the community health service infrastructure, the ERHA is unable to proceed with the development at this stage. All capital development by health boards, including the ERHA, is funded through the national development plan. Since the commencement of the plan there has been significant investment throughout the health service, including the community health sector. The Department of Health and Children is reviewing from a national perspective the NDP for each health board, including the ERHA, in the light of the outturn position for 2002. This process encompasses provision for existing capital contractual commitments and, where possible, the planning or construction of new projects nationally in 2003 or beyond. It is in this context that capital developments for the ERHA are being considered. My Department fully appreciates the importance of progressing such developments and will continue to work closely with the authority in relation to prioritising its overall capital needs in line with the funding resources available under the NDP.