Minister defends decision over health centre sites


MINISTER FOR Health James Reilly yesterday defended the addition of two locations in his Dublin North constituency to a Health Service Executive list of places chosen for new primary care centres.

Minister of State for Primary Care Róisín Shortall said yesterday morning that the Minister had questions to answer about the move.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One programme, Dr Reilly said he stood over the decision and would make “no apologies” for it.

“I made this decision, and I know [Ms Shortall] disagrees with it. But I have made the decision, and I have the authority to so do. I did so with good reason – I took advice here in the department, I took further advice from the HSE, and I also consulted several ministerial colleagues.”

Transparency International Ireland’s chief executive John Devitt said the department should publish any evidence used to support the inclusion of Balbriggan and Swords among 15 locations added to the list drawn up by the HSE.

The anti-corruption agency believed the decision could be seen as politically motivated and a return to the clientelist politics of previous governments.

“This administration won the election on the back of promises to clean up Irish politics. It now needs to prove it can make choices in the public interest, instead of short-term party political gain,” Mr Devitt said.

Dr Reilly said the original criterion for selecting the locations for the centres was based on the urban deprivation index, but considerations must be broader and include the location of existing health facilities in the area and accessibility by public transport.

“As someone who has worked in the community, who understands general practice, who has the experience, I would be negligent in my duty if I ignored all those factors and merely adhered to the narrow criteria that was presented,” he said.

Director of independent think-tank Tasc Nat O’Connor said there should not be a difficulty for the department to outline the precise criteria for sites.

When the Government is trying to roll out important reforms, funding has to go to the higher priority areas, he said. The background information on population densities, age profiles and other criteria was well known and the department should provide the specific criteria without difficulty. He compared it to job interviews when criteria were listed on a points basis with interviewees receiving most points going to the top of the list.

Dr Reilly said he added 15 new locations to the list altogether to bring the total number to 35, which would raise the chances of achieving 20 sites at the end of the process.

“We have a situation in Ballyfermot where in 2007 we built a brand new primary care centre and it lay idle until earlier this year because the GPs refused to move in. I was not prepared to allow a situation to evolve where we would have 20 sites nominated, and we would be committed to those 20 . . . with no arrangements for [the GPs] to work in them,” he said.

“I made it very clear when I came into Government that I was not putting a shovel in the ground until the GPs are signed up. It is an utter waste of money.”

He said some of the locations on the original list have no sites available, so the “implementability of them was questionable”.

Balbriggan was worthy of inclusion because it had the second highest density of unemployment in Dublin, and had no direct links to Beaumont or Drogheda, he said. Swords has a population of 48,000, no primary health centre, and no direct link by public transport to Beaumont.