Minister Varadkar speech at 60th Birthday Celebrations for Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown
Good afternoon. First of all I want to thank you for the kind invitation to be here today.
This is, of course, a hospital to which I feel a special connection. Not just because it is in my constituency but also because it is a hospital that I worked in for a very happy time back in 2004 and 2005.
I worked in the Emergency Department during the move from the old prefabricated ED to the new one in the new building. It’s hard to believe that’s almost 11 years ago. In fact, I am pretty sure I saw the first patient in the new Department. Though I understand there may be some dispute about that.
I also worked in Medicine for the Elderly, then based in Unit 4 and Unit 5. All in all, I have worked in eight different hospitals and I can honestly say that Connolly was one of my favourites.
Aside from the short commute from Roselawn, good canteen and modern facilities, it has truly excellent and committed staff who work together and with each other in a way that is not always the case in all other hospitals.
I left Connolly, and the world of medicine, to go into politics, but some people who worked here left for even greater things. In Paul McGrath’s autobiography he writes with pride about the job he had providing security for the hospital in the early 1980s – when he was just starting out as a footballer. He worked for CP Security, and on one occasion they needed a few players to take on Maynooth. Paul was asked to play even though no one knew if he was any good. They won 5 or 6-nil, and Paul scored 4 goals. And so a legend was born.
Like all acute hospitals, Connolly is not without its problems – some beyond its control. These range from delayed discharges, to overcrowding in the Emergency Department, to long waiting times for too many patients. But these are problems that I believe can be addressed, though we will need both time and money.
As you know, over the past decades, there have been threats to downgrade or close Connolly. Today, we can be sure that the future of our hospital is secure and bright. Aside from this building and the renovation of the old surgical blocks, we have seen some real improvements in recent years such the MRI scanner, the opening of the AMAU and more recent and ongoing investments in the Urology and Radiology Departments. St Francis Hospice is up and running next door and will be opened officially next month.
More developments will follow. The HSE has sanctioned the development of a 100 bed community nursing unit, on the grounds, to replace the existing long-stay units like Woodlands and provide additional long term care beds for our ageing local population.
In three months’ time, the planning application for the three storey Children’s Unit will be lodged with An Bord Pleanala. It will include a walk-in Children’s Emergency Department or Urgent Care Centre, paediatric out-patient department and children’s dentistry.
All things going to plan, planning permission will be secured by Christmas or the early New Year, construction will start in the spring of 2016, this time next year, and the first children will be seen here in 2017. It’s not that far away. It will be fully paperless and integrated with the main hospital on the campus of St James and the other satellite centre in Tallaght.
I know there is still some regret that Government decided on the advice of the Dolphin Group to locate the new Children’s Hospital on the St James campus. Blanchardstown has a lot to recommend it especially in terms of space, access and location.
But the decision ultimately came down to co-location with national centres and specialties in the interest of integrated care for children and access to the most extensive clinical trials and research. On that metric St James had no equal. That decision was made almost three years ago and since then a lot of work and taxpayers’ money has gone into the project. A change in policy now would pour tens of millions down the drain and cause years of further delay, and even then there is no guarantee that Blanchardstown would be chosen over other locations that also made a strong case three years ago, and who certainly would do so again. Crumlin and Temple Street do a fabulous job but they cannot go on as they are for very much longer with their existing facilities, and I would be concerned of the effect on paediatric services of any further delays
In the coming months a decision will also be made on a future home for the Coombe and Rotunda. Holles St is moving to St Vincent’s co-locating with an adult hospital in line with best practice. As you know, the previous government decided that the Coombe should go to St James and Rotunda to the Mater.
But since then, a lot has changed – demographics, planning etc. – prompting the review. Of course, any decision made by Government on the matter will be made objectively, driven only by what is best for future Mums and Babies, not local politics. But I will be making a recommendation and I look forward to doing that in the next few weeks.
Connolly, as you know, now forms part of the RCSI Hospital Group which also includes Beaumont, Drogheda, Cavan, Monaghan and the Rotunda. The Hospital Groups will develop into self-governing hospital trusts independent from the HSE. I think there is enormous potential for the RCSI Group to exploit Connolly’s land bank and location to develop a major healthcare campus here for the Group, combining medical and academic facilities with industry, research and life sciences. But that’s for the next sixty years!
Blanchardstown Hospital Society
I also want to acknowledge and thank all those involved in the Blanchardstown Hospital Society. The Society aims to develop services within the Hospital and promote exceptional patient care by encouraging the active involvement of staff, community, and the corporate sector. Through hard work and fund raising, it has helped to ensure that patient care is at the forefront of the hospital’s ethos.
Getting back to history. Some of you will know that sixty years ago there were some people who opposed calling this hospital after one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising and suggested that it should be called ‘St. Bridget’s’ instead. I think the right decision was made.
And when the James Connolly Memorial Hospital was formally opened as the Dublin Regional Sanatorium, the event was attended by Connolly’s son and daughter, who said how proud they were to see their father honoured in this way.
It was a Trinity doctor and Health Minister – Noel Browne – a true idealist – who suggested the name, but it was James Ryan and subsequently a Fine Gael Minister for Health, Tom O’Higgins – a realist – who got it done, and indeed it was he who opened this hospital on the 21st of April 1955. Exactly 60 years ago today.
Connolly may not have had a particular connection with Blanchardstown, but in his writings he attacked the state of health provision in Dublin, and he demanded better facilities for the people who needed them most. It was part of his vision for a better, fairer Ireland, and this hospital has helped contribute to the realisation of that vision over the past sixty years.
This is a very special occasion, as it allows us to pay tribute to all of the men and women who have worked here over the past sixty years, the 900 staff working here today and the thousands who went before us, the medical staff, the porters and cleaners, medical scientists, management, nurses, therapists and all the support staff. Your determination to make things better has helped save or improve thousands of lives, and on behalf of the Government and wider community I want to give my thanks.
As Henry Ford said “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success”. I wish you all the very best in continuing to work so successfully together with such positive results.