Health committee says progress on elective hospitals ‘too slow’

Róisín Shortall says opening of first elective hospital on existing hospital grounds will take at least 10 years

The first of the State’s proposed new hospitals for elective procedures will not be taking patients before 2027 – at least 10 years after plans for the new hospitals were announced.

The new hospitals, which are a critical piece of the State’s plans to separate elective surgeries from the acute hospital network, are to be based at Galway, Dublin and Cork. The sites for the stand-alone elective surgeries involved include the grounds on the existing St Stephen’s Hospital, Cork, and Merlin Park in Galway. The sites in Dublin include Mount Carmel in the south of the city and an as yet unidentified existing building on the north side of the city.

However, while officials from the HSE and the Department of Health told the Oireachtas Committee on Health that the facilities would be operational as soon as possible, TDs and Senators said the project was moving “too slow”. A number of committee members expressed concern that an interim plan for “surgical hubs” announced by Minister for Heath Stephen Donnelly last December would overlap and even replace plans for the new hospitals.

Mr Donnelly said the Government had approved as “a shorter-term measure” the development of five surgical hubs at Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford and Dublin. He said they would be modelled on the successful Reeves Centre at Tallaght University Hospital.


Mr Donnelly said. over the course of the first 24 months of operation of the Reeves Centre the total number of patients waiting on day-case surgery reduced by 58 per cent, with a 91 per cent reduction in patients waiting more than three months. He said it was intended that the hubs would be operational by June 2023.

But at the Oireachtas Committee on Health on Wednesday members were told the timetable for the first of the new hubs to open had moved to 2024, while the first of the new elective hospitals would not open to patients before 2027.

Liam Woods, national director and regional health area implementation lead with the HSE, told the committee the “hospitals in Cork and Galway are planned to receive their first patients in 2027 and to be fully commissioned from 2028 onwards”. He said: “We are continuing to work with the department and I note that it is intended to update Government on progress in Dublin and on the overall electives programme in the near future.”

Muiris O’Connor, assistant secretary general of the Department of Health, said the process was “under way” to procure a design team to prepare planning applications and designs for tender in respect of Cork and Galway. “In Dublin a site identification and assessment process is expected to be concluded shortly,” he said.

He also said the department and the HSE were “continuing to work on the business case for Dublin“ and a memo updating the Government on progress on this and the overall electives programme would be submitted soon. He assured members the department and the HSE were seeking to deliver the new hospitals “as soon as possible, within the public spending code”.

However, Social Democrats health spokeswoman Róisín Shortall said the timeline meant delivery of elective hospitals would take “at least 10 years”. She criticised the lack of identification of the north Dublin site, and said it was at least a year since members were told progress was being made and announcements would be made “shortly”.

Fine Gael TD Colm Burke said the rate of progress was not good enough given the growth in population and the level of medical infrastructure in the country.

Sinn Féin spokesman on health David Cullinane said the lesson was that “it takes far too long to get something done” in the health service.

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Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist