HSE warned to explain new €7m overspend in hospital 'with no patients'
Refurbishment costs at a hospital that allegedly had 'no patients' during a recent visit by TDs have spiralled €7m over-budget, it has been claimed.
Our Lady's Hospital in Cashel, Co Tipperary - which caters for day patients - is said to have undergone more than €22m in refurbishment work in recent years.
Despite that investment, local Labour TD Alan Kelly told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) he visited the hospital with Health Minister Simon Harris recently and "there wasn't one single patient in the building".
The remarks have echoes of classic British TV series 'Yes Minister', where Jim Hacker was told by his civil servants that the running of a hospital would be helped by having no patients.
But serious questions have been raised about the cost of the refurbishment work in Cashel. Mr Harris said the HSE should "absolutely" come before the PAC to explain the expenditure.
The HSE insisted last night, however, that the refurbishments remained within the allocated budget. It said two phases of refurbishment work costing €23.5m were completed between 2009 and 2011 and were "within budget".
Alan Kelly said he had been "imploring" Mr Harris to expand services at the hospital and use it as a step-down facility to ease "massive overcrowding" at South Tipperary General Hospital. He argued Mr Harris couldn't stand over the current situation, adding: "He's going to have to do something."
The PAC was asked to probe the refurbishment costs by another Tipperary TD, Mattie McGrath, who said the budget for the work was originally set at €15m.
He said the apparent overspend of €7m was "a cause of profound concern to me".
Mr McGrath also claimed that while plans published in 2009 showed the refurbishment would include units with 65 beds, it was recently confirmed at a regional health forum that the hospital "will in fact never have patients in beds".
"This is an incredible story which goes back the guts of 20 years in relation to agreements that there will be a new role for this hospital," Mr Kelly told the PAC.
"So it's not just a case of where did the €7m go. It's a case of what is it [the hospital] being used for or what will it potentially be used for while South Tipperary General Hospital . . . is [experiencing] one of the biggest overcrowding situations in Ireland?"
Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald said there was "a strong argument for just calling the HSE in fairly promptly" and raised concern at Mr McGrath's assertion that the hospital would never have patients on beds.
Mr Kelly said: "Many of us have been arguing that it's obviously a disgrace that this facility is left like that."
He added the HSE was refusing to use the hospital as a step-down facility. "If it's not going to be used as step-down what in the name of God is it going to be used for?"
PAC chairman Seán Fleming proposed writing to the HSE, enclosing Mr McGrath's letter and seeking "a full explanation".
Mr Harris later called on the HSE to address the allegations.
A lengthy statement released by the HSE last night detailed the services at the campus. Its said phase one included 28 beds in residential units for the elderly, people suffering from mental illness and those with intellectual difficulties.
Phase two resulted in the Cashel Primary Care team becoming based at the campus and included an upgraded space for the minor injuries unit among a series of other facilities.