Health Minister James Reilly said this was an option the HSE was actively exploring in the wake of the closure of the private Dublin hospital at the end of January and the loss of 330 jobs.
“We are very much interested and open to the idea of Mount Carmel as a step-down facility and the HSE is looking into that,” the minister told a Dáil health committee hearing yesterday.
“In fact I don’t even like alluding to it as a step-down facility, it would be more about rehabilitation and about getting older people back home,” he said.
He was responding to questions from TDs at the hearing where Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation representative Philip McAnenly, said they were of the view that the hospital had had a good chance of breaking even in 2014, but that a bid to buy it as a going concerned had been rejected by Nama because of a €2m shortfall in its target price.
Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher questioned if due diligence had been carried out by the HSE and the Government on foot of their decision not to buy the hospital as a going concern.
However, Dr Reilly said it was his understanding Mount Carmel had been “losing money on a weekly basis” and that the Government was not going to buy it as a going concern “because it would expose the HSE and the government to all its contingent liabilities”.
Dr Reilly said it would also have run contrary to government health policy to purchase a standalone maternity service with a low volume of births given bi-location (maternity hospital plus acute adult hospital on the same campus) and tri-location (maternity/adult acute/paediatric on the same campus) were policy now. It was also in the best interests of patient safety to have a high volume of births, he said.
Questioned by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Sinn Féin’s health spokesman, as to why the hospital could not have been retained to facilitate the decanting of wards in nearby St James’s Hospital when building of the new children’s hospital goes ahead, Dr Reilly said there were other facilities available.
Asked to explain his claim that some of the ex-Mount Carmel nursing staff had already secured alternative employment — given the ongoing ban on recruitment to the health service — Dr Reilly said there had always been a degree of flexibility in order to ensure the right skills mix.
However Ian Carter, HSE head of acute services, was unable to give definitive figures in terms of the number of staff that had been offered new contracts.