Vacant Garda stations may become care centres


MORE THAN 30 unused Garda stations may be converted into primary care centres over the next number of years, the Department of Health has confirmed.

Some 29 small Garda stations closed last Friday, more than half of them in the western half of the State, including six in west Cork.

A further eight were already non-operational: Castletownshend and Ballygurteen in west Cork, Ballinure and Ballinderry in Tipperary, Ballywilliam in Wexford, Doochary in Donegal, Geashill in Laois/Offaly and Tarmonbarry in Roscommon/Longford.

Minister of State for Health Róisín Shortall said yesterday that not only Garda stations but “any empty building” owned by the State would be looked at with a view to converting them into primary care centres.

Primary care centres would be one-stop-shops in the community, with such services as GP, nurse, physiotherapist, chiropodist and psychotherapist in one location.

Ms Shortall said the 2001 primary care strategy, published by then minister for health Micheál Martin, envisaged an infrastructure of centres to deliver the vast majority of a person’s healthcare in their local community and out of acute hospitals.

“The difficulty is we are operating to a 2001 primary care strategy but unfortunately through the last 10 years, even during the boom time, there was very little progress made in providing good-quality, modern accommodation for primary care teams to operate from.

“So we’ve a lot of ground to make up, and obviously it’s a difficult time with very little funding available,” she said, speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday.

“So what we need to do is bring into use, for health purposes, any empty buildings that are there and that are suitable for conversion.”

Among the ideas being looked at was the use of “suitable, vacant Garda stations”.

The State had a lot of other vacant properties acquired or developed for the decentralisation programme, which was not now proceeding. “So what we need to do is see what accommodation is there.”

She said there would also have to be some level of building work and she was hoping an allocation of €50 million would be made this year.

“I think we’ll need that each year for the next few years. So I’d be very hopeful that we can proceed now to develop a network of modern primary care centres.”

Though there were severe budget pressures across Government services, Ms Shortall said the Government was committed to strengthening primary care services.

“We need to move activity out of hospitals and into the local community.

“It makes the most sense from a health perspective. We get the best health results if there is early detection of disease and management of disease at a local level,” she said.

“So that is the way of the future. People should be able to receive 90 per cent of their healthcare at local level,” said Ms Shortall.