HSE says Carrick-on-Suir hospital needs new building to enable it reopen but it's not a "viable option"

Aileen Hahesy

Reporter:

Aileen Hahesy

HSE says Carrick-on-Suir hospital would need to be demolished and rebuilt in order to reopen 

St Brigid's Hospital in Carrick-on-Suir

Upgrading St Brigid’s District Hospital to HIQA standards would require the demolition of the premises and a complete new building, which the HSE believes is not a “viable option”, says Minister of State Mary Butler.  

The Minister for Mental Health & Older People issued a  statement on Monday outlining in greater  detail the reasons why the HSE has closed Carrick-on-Suir’s District Hospital and why it considered it not viable to simply upgrade the facility.  

The Portlaw based Minister said she held an online meeting  with Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation representatives and staff members of St Brigid’s last Tuesday, February 2. The meeting facilitated the opportunity for those attending to voice their concerns and  to  clarify the situation. A number of nurses at the meeting were members of the St Brigid’s Action Group, she pointed out. 

She explained  substantial refurbishment and extension was  required to resume short stay services at St Brigid’s Hospital in line with safer, better healthcare and infection, prevention and control standards. However, the current premises was not conducive to support the level of refurbishment and adaptations required to resume short stay inpatient services.  

“This would in effect require the demolition of the existing premises and a complete new build on a very tight site, with a need to raise floor levels by approximately one metre.  HSE Estates/Technical services have indicated this is not a viable option.” 

She continued: “The HSE is not satisfied that we can safely operate the hospital in line with prevailing public health guidance and infection prevention and control guidelines. 

“Simply put, if St Brigid’s Hospital was permitted to continue in its previous function, patient safety would be jeopardised and a degree of risk to human life would be posed.”  

Minister Butler  outlined in her statement answers to campaigners’ questions which she obtained from the office of Barbara Murphy, Head of Service for Older People at the HSE’s South East Community Healthcare. She said the answers were the “final position” on this matter.  

Why is  the  outcome of a HIQA inspection in October 2018 only being actioned now? 

Ms Murphy said: “The issues contained in the HIQA Inspection Report are and were known to the HSE but even with the shortcomings as identified in the HIQA report, the HSE continued to operate short stay services at St Brigid’s.   

“The Covid-19  pandemic brought Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) matters to the forefront and  requirements associated with isolation, distancing and infection prevention and control became paramount.  

“With further learning in relation to Covid-19 and the  infection, prevention and control requirements, it became apparent that we could not admit patients from the community into St Brigid’s, owing to the risks presenting.”

How was the hospital deemed suitable for Covid-19  patients last March and then unsuitable for overnight patients in November?

Ms Murphy responded: “With the onset of the Covid pandemic, the HSE  initially operated in somewhat of a vacuum with regards to Covid-19 and the required responses to the virus. 

“Overnight, the HSE and South East Community Healthcare were required to put response measures in place and generate capacity for acute care/Covid step down care. 

 “For this reason, a number of short stay services were  designated as Covid hospitals. 

“Thankfully the significant additional beds to meet the anticipated demand as then predicted were not required.

“In May 2020, the staff from St Brigid’s Hospital were re-deployed to meet demand elsewhere in Community Services. In July 2020, the HSE resumed  service planning and as we learned more about Covid-19, it became clear the infection prevention and control requirements presented a challenge in terms of St Brigid’s, particularly in relation to its existing infrastructure.

Did the HSE consider removing a bed from the ward to address the non-compliances pertaining to “inadequate space”?

Ms Murphy said: “The HSE did consider this option, however, any proposed bed reduction would not address issues pertaining to inadequate space, including access to bathroom facilities, and meet infection control requirements.”

Why would the HSE choose to close a hospital during a Public Health Emergency?

 Ms Murphy responded: “The HSE was  not satisfied  it  can safely operate the hospital in line with prevailing public health guidance and infection prevention and control guidelines.”

Minister Butler insisted she, nor the Government, can decide to close any institution in this manner. The HSE took an “operational” decision to close St Brigid’s  and the final decision to discontinue services at St Brigid’s was taken by the HSE and HIQA. 

She said she was simply not in a position to deviate from the HSE and HIQA’s final decision and the expert assessment process that preceded it. Minister Butler acknowledged the very significant healthcare role St Brigid’s has played for the past 183 years and the excellent level of care and support which was provided to so many patients and families alike.

“This is why I fought very hard to ensure the hospital would not lie idle and under utilised but rather that it remained an asset to the local community and a detailed project plan has been developed as a result.”  She concluded that it would be “wholly irresponsible” to jeopardise patient safety and potentially risk human life by deviating from the HSE’s decision, which was “unequivocally, absolute and final”.