Mon, Mar 21, 2022
Read in 5 minutes
During a session of the Public Accounts Committee Neasa questioned representatives of the Department of Health on the closure of the Owenacurra Centre in Midleton, County Cork.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I want to return to the Department. As the witness’s feed cut out in the process of the response to my original question, I want to review the answer. We seem to have decided to close a centre of excellence in terms of Owenacurra, Midleton, a centre that is exemplary of fully-integrated 24-hour high-dependency beds in a local provision setting, which is exactly what we are meant to be aiming towards. In the period since the closure decision was made, no information has been provided on the building that is relevant to the closure. The building faces no more or no fewer challenges than most of the other healthcare provision facilities in the area. We have decided to move most of the 11 residents 30 km down the road into Carrigaline and Glenwood, at a cost of €1.25 million. We have no planning permission for that building.
I remind the witnesses that our national policy documents state that we should have in the region of 30 placements in every region. The area of east Cork had 24 placements in Owenacurra. It now has zero placements. By comparison, north Cork, which has almost the same population at 93,000 in 2016, has 42 placements. I understand there is a waiting list of local service users for those placements.
It is important to make the point that the HSE has cited a significant conflict of interest in its representations to this committee for this meeting. It states: “At a very early point, a potential conflict of interest was declared by a senior manager in the CHO mental health service as that person had a family connection to this property.”
Chair: The Deputy should not…..
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I know what the Chairman is about to say. I am not going to identify anybody.
Chair: I ask the Deputy to abide by Standing Orders.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: What is meant by “this property” is the Carrigaline property. To continue reading from the HSE document: “On the service side, and to ensure there was no conflict of interest, all matters in relation to the proposed purchase was dealt with by a different senior manager and the chief officer.” Given the decision to close Owenacurra is absolutely contrary to our national policy and the best interests and wishes of residents, and it seems to be part of a procurement and decision-making process around capital spending, which I have considerable questions about and which we will be continuing to review and follow up through this committee, is it the Department’s view that the Department and the Minister have no questions about the decision to close Owenacurra?
Chair: In relation to identifying people and allegations that are not substantiated - people have been named in the media - I would ask that you desist from that. I know you have not named anybody but I want to…..
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I have not named anybody. In fairness, the HSE sent us a document as part of the PAC briefing. I have read from that document. They are not my words.
Chair: I understand that, but I am asking you not to go any further than that with it.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I would like to hear from the Department if it has no questions.
Mr. Seamus Hempenstall: As I was saying, the decision was taken by the HSE to close the facility in response to the Mental Health Commission action. The building was deemed unsuitable. It is in the interests of the residents that they have suitable accommodation. As I understand it, all the efforts of the HSE have been directed to finding appropriate accommodation for the residents.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: I know I am out of time but, just to be clear, the Department has no concerns about the procurement process, the spending of capital assets where there is no planning permission in place and the closure of a functioning facility?
Mr. Seamus Hempenstall: I cannot say that I do not have any concerns. I am just looking at this information now, but these are detailed operational decisions that are for the HSE to resolve. It can speak to the conflict of interest and the other issues the Deputy has raised, but from a Department perspective we have been…..
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: There is no accountability between the Department and the HSE for such a decision. The Department will not hold the HSE to account. Is that what Mr. Hempenstall is telling me?
Mr. Seamus Hempenstall: No, I did not say that. I said that the Department and the Minister have been liaising closely with the HSE in relation to the decisions it is taking in the interests of the residents of Owenacurra. That is what they have been doing because the building is unsuitable.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: The building is no more unsuitable than all of the other buildings in the area. There is no rhyme or reason for closing Owenacurra and spending huge amounts of money on other congregated settings which are absolutely in contrast and contradiction to our national policies. If the Department will not hold completely opaque decision-making of the HSE to account, who will?
Mr. Seamus Hempenstall: I do not really understand the question the Deputy is asking. The HSE is here answering the questions about the decisions it has taken on Owenacurra.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: The answers do not add up. Where is the accountability? Will the Department hold the HSE to account?
Mr. Seamus Hempenstall: The Deputy has expressed her view about how the decisions do not add up. I can say the Department and the Minister have been following with the HSE the decisions it is taking in the best interests of the patients and residents in Owenacurra.
Deputy Neasa Hourigan: This is not in their best interests.