The business community has stood back and looked on as the election candidates slugged it out over the past few months. One subject appeared time and time again, sometimes attended by claims and scary tales that verged on the scurrilous. The shape and leadership of the Republic’s government is forming for the next 5 years, and surely it’s time now to pack away all the red herrings and address some serious debate and embrace robust decision-making on future healthcare provisions for this region.
This week Joe McCarthy and Bill Tosh met with the David Gavigan who heads Strategic Investment Board in NI and Tom Hanney who heads the North-South ministerial council to put a strong case for a collaborative initiative in this area.
The provision of leading healthcare facilities has always been a fundamental feature to attract quality investors as well as to support the quality of life expected in a buoyant, expanding economy, so, it’s reasonable that business should come forward with their view. The recent electoral duels that were fought, failed to bring what for many was an obvious observation. It was, that a Gateway town, aspiring to grow with its twin, should jointly with it, claim the provision of state-of-the-art acute hospital services. Dundalk urban showed 35,000 living in the town in 2006, to which you must add the 17,000 living in Blackrock, Haggardstown, Castlebellingham, Knockbridge, Louth village right round through Faughart and the Cooley, to come up with a catchment figure currently in excess of 50,000. We know that Spatial Plans will add conservatively a further 30,000 over the next 10-15 years. Newry, whilst smaller, has within a similar 10 kilometer hinterland, some 25,000 inhabitants and is growing fast. If you throw a 10 kms blanket over each of Dundalk and Newry, you will see a minimum 120,000 people, linked by motorway, living here by 2020.
We believe that the opportunity to review Dundalk and Newry’s provisions should be taken now, where their potential to support and sustain a single Regional Acute Services Hospital is considered afresh. The expected outcome that a single unit, strategically placed, to be both a signature outcome of the establishment of a devolved assembly in NI, and, a key lever in the tool-bag for ramping up both demographic and economic growth, will be found. Our very own Beaumont or Royal Victoria!!
We would invite the Strategic Investment Board (NI) and N-E Health Board (RoI) to appoint an expert to prepare a QUICK study to indicate how this prospect might be realized and concurrently how primary care would reform to take advantage of it, with some indication of the improvements and value-for-money that both jurisdiction’s public would enjoy.
We believe implicitly that collaboration on this scale and in this service area would be a powerful win-win scenario for this region. If SIB were able to justify the new Erne acute services hospital, which serves South Donegal and parts of Sligo as well as Fermanagh and Tyrone, then NEHB should welcome SIB’s contribution to build a joint acute services facility in this region. Altnagalvin Hospital has served Derry City, some of the counties of Derry and Donegal well for many years, so a collaboration where each jurisdiction would share the investment burden is well-proven elsewhere. The economic justification alone, notwithstanding the clear societal message, would clear support for this signature project; that each jurisdiction would share the costs, should concentrate the minds of both treasuries. As Gavaghan put it, we’d assuredly get best value for our bucks.