Just one of 35 primary health care centres announced by the Government to great fanfare almost five years ago is operational, it has emerged, writes Stephen Rogers.
All the other locations are still in the development process and many are not due to open until after 2018 at the earliest.
The failure to open more by now has been described as an indictment of Government policy by Fianna Fáil.
In July 2012, then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, revealed the Government’s intention to develop a number of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) primary care centres (PCC) with a capital value of approximately €115m. It was part of a €2.25bn infrastructure stimulus package.
From the original list of 35 locations for PCCs, 14 were identified as suitable for the PPP model and were developed by the HSE to be brought through to a preliminary design and statutory planning process. The centres were to range in size from approximately 1,500 m2 to 5,000 m2.
There was controversy shortly after the announcement of the centres when it emerged that then Health Minister James Reilly had added Swords and Balbriggan in his Dublin North constituency to the prioritised list of locations.
At the time, Mr Reilly claimed that the two areas were prioritised for centres with the HSE as far back as 2007 and denied he was engaging in “stroke politics”.
The rest of the centres were to be constructed through direct build (four) or operational leases (17).
A list of the centres provided by Health Minister Simon Harris to Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher shows the only centre that is operational is in Kells, Co Meath. It opened in the first quarter of 2016 and was under an operational lease.
Mr Harris said a further six are projected to open in 2017 and 10 in 2018. That still leaves more than half that will not open until 2019 or later.
For several, the development is only at the stage of “planning permission is in place” or “expressions of interest received. Currently being reviewed.”
“While the Government’s objective is to deliver a high quality, integrated and cost effective health care service the mechanism and timescale for delivery of primary care centres is dependent on a number of factors,” said Mr Harris. “Some of these factors are outside the control of the Health Service Executive.
He said the operational lease mechanism “is subject to market pressures such as the developers’ access to adequate financing” and added that, separate to the 35 announced in July 2012, 13 centres are projected to open in 2017 or early 2018 and that, overall, 56 centres have been opened since 2011.
However, Mr Kelleher said the fact that only one of the 35 had opened was an indictment of Government policy over the last six years and showed the inadequacy of the Government’s efforts.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.