St Luke's could be used as hospice after closure, says Harney
A cancer facility that is due to close in four years will not be sold off and may instead be used to provide care for the terminally ill, Health Minister Mary Harney said yesterday.
St Luke's hospital in Rathgar, Dublin, which provides radiotherapy treatment, has been at the centre of a row over its proposed closure, which is opposed by former patients.
But Ms Harney, who was taking the Health Bill 2010 allowing for the dissolution of the hospital's board and transfer of its assets before the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, said the closure plans will go ahead in keeping with the reorganisation of cancer services in eight designated hospitals.
The radiotherapy services will be transferred to St James's Hospital and Beaumont Hospital as part of the plan to link up various forms of cancer care on one site.
Labour Party TD Jan O'Sullivan had sought an amendment to be attached to allow the hospital, set on 18 acres, to continue to be used as a "satellite" radiotherapy centre, saying there were fears for its future after 2014.
Ms Harney told the meeting that it would be retained as a public health facility and is currently being examined by consultants to determine what direction it should take in the future -- it may be a palliative care centre and also accommodate long-stay patients.
However, Ms Harney added: "I don't want to pre-empt the forthcoming suggestions from the board.
"The ethos of St Luke's is to keep it as a hospital and not have it sold.
"Land near the city centre for public health use is hard to find and there is a growing demand for health services," she added."
Asked to clarify the matter, a spokesman for the Department of Health said yesterday that the Health Bill included a provision that the Health Service Executive could not dispose of the site without the "permission of the minister".
Some staff from St Luke's will transfer to the new centres from the second half of this year. St James's service will become operational this year and Beaumont's in 2011.
All remaining staff and resources in 2014 will transfer from St Luke's to either St James's or Beaumont. The network between the hospitals will have 12 linear accelerators, providing radiotherapy compared to the eight currently available in St Luke's.
Additional development funding and 54 posts have been provided to the Cancer Control Programme this year for the new centres.
Cancer survivor Joe Guilfoyle, chairperson of the 'Save St Luke's Hospital' campaign, said: "St Luke's is one of the few success stories of our public health system.
"It is a hospital that patients like me are very happy to travel to. It is unacceptable that the minister is attempting to close it.
"There was no patient input, and since then, the projected numbers of new cancer cases by 2020 has risen by 50pc from 28,000 to 42,000."