Friday, 21 September 2012
Reilly changes Primary care list to suit himself
TWO LOCATIONS in Minister for Health James Reilly’s north Dublin constituency were added to a list of places chosen for primary care centres after the final list drawn up by the HSE was passed to his department, The Irish Times has learned.
Swords and Balbriggan were among five locations added to the priority list for building new primary care centres announced by the Minister last July. Neither featured in lists of the top 30 locations which the HSE recommended should receive priority in the development of new centres by public-private partnerships, documents obtained under freedom of information show.
The decision to change the list was challenged by Minister of State for Primary Care Róisín Shortall, who told Dr Reilly she found it “hard to understand”.
Ms Shortall raised the issue again in her speech on the no-confidence motion in the Minister last Wednesday night, when she called for decisions on primary care centres to be transparent and objective.
Government policy, repeatedly stated by the two Ministers, is that priority for primary care centres be given to areas of urban and rural deprivation.
The documentation shows that initially some 200 locations were earmarked in order of priority for primary care centres by the HSE. Swords ranked 130th in this list while Balbriggan ranked 44th. The list was later narrowed down to 20 priority locations on the instructions of Ms Shortall.
After the file left her office, a new list of 30 priority locations was sent by the HSE to the secretary general of the Department of Health and a special adviser to Dr Reilly. When the locations were finally announced by the Government in July, the list had been expanded to a total of 35 locations, including Swords and Balbriggan.
The department said last night the final list was changed to bring greater certainty to the successful development of centres.
“Experience on the ground in a range of areas has shown that securing the involvement of GPs in such primary care centres can be difficult. The difficulty can be added to in the event that the options of the HSE are limited.”
The Government had now selected 35 potential centres for development with an undertaking to complete 20 of them, the department said. “It is hoped that by this dynamic the interest of doctors in securing the establishment of primary care centres in their area will be enhanced.”
On July 20th last, three days after Dr Reilly announced the list of locations, Ms Shortall wrote saying, “I find it difficult to understand the basis on which the 35 locations which you published on Tuesday were selected.”
Dr Reilly’s spokesman was unable to say last night whether any documentation existed to explain the rationale for choosing the final list of 35 centres. Asked about the fact that two of the five centres added to the list were in the Minister’s constituency, he expressed confidence that all the locations chosen were “in real need of a primary care centre”.
In her Dáil speech earlier this week, Ms Shortall said: “Decisions on where primary care centres are located must be transparent and objective, based on health need and no other consideration. Primary care centres, just like schools, are essential public infrastructure and should be provided on the same basis.”
Last night, her spokesman said she had no involvement in drawing up the final list of locations. The department said the list was published “following consultation between Ministers and senior officials”.
Dr Reilly is involved in a partnership that aimed to build a primary care centre on land near Swords that was purchased in 2007. The three-man group obtained planning permission for the venture and was chosen by the HSE at the time as its “preferred provider” but the agreement was not completed after one of the parties withdrew from the deal.
Dr Reilly told the Dáil last July the project was not being proceeded with and the property was for sale. It remains on the market, his spokesman confirmed last night. The department said the HSE was now examining a proposal to deliver a centre at another location in Swords by leasing accommodation.
Three other sites were added to the final list of 35 locations. Ballaghaderreen was ranked by officials outside the top 200 locations, Kilkenny city was outside the top 150, while Darndale in Dublin was ranked 43rd.