No review of future hospital needs before next summer

Merlin Park Hospital

A review of future building needs by the Saolta University Healthcare Group in Galway – including a new hospital for the grounds of Merlin Park – will not be completed until the middle of next year.

Health Minister Simon Harris has told the Dáil that Saolta – which operates Galway’s public hospitals – is carrying out an extensive review of existing and future needs.

He said he expects the ‘options appraisal paper’ to be ready by mid-2018.

The Health Minister was responding to queries from Galway West Deputy Catherine Connolly, who said there had never been good planning in relation to UHG, that it was forced from crisis to crisis.

“The Government clearly has a role in this matter given the substantial capital outlay involved in building a new hospital. There are 150 acres available on the Merlin Park site. Higgledy-piggledy development is no longer acceptable because it was this approach that caused the crisis in University Hospital Galway. We want proper planning in Merlin Park rather than piece-meal development,” said Deputy Connolly.

Minister Harris said: “As part of the appraisal, the Saolta group is undertaking a medium-term planning project to assess the population health needs for University Hospital Galway’s catchment to inform existing and future service needs. I am informed by the group that this process will be completed by mid-2018.

“Any further investment in Saolta hospitals will have to be considered by the Health Service Executive based on the strategic priorities put forward by the Saolta University Healthcare Group. For this reason, we need to hear from the group what are its priority projects for further investment.

“It will not only consider what projects need to be done immediately – some must be done and others have already been done – but will make a proper assessment of the planning and development of health services in Galway, which is a vibrant city and large county.

“I expect an options appraisal paper by mid-2018, if not earlier. I would welcome the paper as soon as the Saolta group has completed it. The paper will indicate to the Government, Oireachtas and HSE how the group would like to develop its services.

“It is not for me to tell it how it should develop its services. What is the point in having a group and people in positions to manage the service if I try to micro-manage services?

“I have given the group the go-ahead in terms of funding to produce an options appraisal. If that plan is delivered to me, I assure the Deputy that the Government and I, as Minister, will support proper planned development of health services in Galway,” said the Minister.

Deputy Connolly said that last December, Saolta wrote to the Minister seeking approval to carry out the options appraisal.

Minister Harris said he gave his approval for this last May – even though the structure of Saolta is such that his approval is not required for an analysis to be carried out.