What are voluntary hospitals for?


Sir, – Recent correspondence has questioned the purpose of voluntary hospitals (March 22nd).

Developed in the 18th and 19th centuries by charitable lay and religious groups, the voluntary hospitals cared for the sick poor whose needs were ignored by the state. Catholic orders of nuns were active in this mission, especially the Sisters of Charity, who set up St Vincent’s and Temple Street hospitals, and the Sisters of Mercy, who set up the Mater and St Michael’s hospitals, and similar hospitals in Belfast, east Africa, Australia and the US, and donated 30 acres to this State to develop Beaumont Hospital.

The hospitals were staffed by the Sisters, who worked long hours without pay, and lived very modestly in the adjacent convents. For many years, the Sisters received little or no support from the Government for their charitable work, and never received adequate recognition for decades of selfless commitment.

Their hospitals have cared for millions of patients, always provided the highest standard of medical care, and have been at the forefront of advances such as heart surgery and transplantation. In association with third-level institutions, they have trained thousands of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers.

Faced with expanding patient demands and costs around 1930, the Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes was introduced, and it funded the voluntary hospitals for almost 40 years. Since then the State has provided funding, currently tightly circumscribed by detailed invidious legal service-level agreement (SLA) documents which, among other things, stipulate for each hospital that the HSE may, at its discretion, take over the hospital and its land and assets, should it see fit.

We hope it does not. The voluntary hospitals are not anachronistic. We need them more than ever today. – Yours, etc,


Rathmines, Dublin 6.