On Monday in the Seanad, I raised again the delays in respect to the lodgement of a planning application for the new Emergency Department & Maternity and Paediatric facilities at UHG with Minister of State, Frank Feighan.

Enabling works on construction of a temporary extension to the emergency department at the hospital have commenced and are due to be completed in early 2022. This will provide additional accommodation, including segregated waiting and treatment areas, isolation rooms, additional resuscitation spaces and support accommodation to take account of new requirements to treat Covid-19 patients. I ask the Minister of State to clarify if a timeline has been set in respect of the lodgment of a planning application for the new emergency department and maternity and paediatric facilities at UHG. Has Saolta given a timeline for this project? Why are we still waiting? Is the project being stalled purposely or is genuine progress being made? Is the design 70%, 75%, 80%, 85%, 90%, 95% or 99% complete? Is Saolta ready to sign-off on this project? Is it awaiting national estates to give it the go ahead? Is it waiting for Department of Public Expenditure and Reform approval?

I have been through the history of this project previously. As far back as 2015, the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, said that the emergency department at UHG was not fit for purpose. We have had ministerial visits to Galway, where we have been told that planning permission would be lodged prior to Christmas 2018. The specifications may have changed to a degree since then in the fit-out of the building, but I do not see the rationale for the planning permission not having been lodged. Where is the design at? Is it nearly complete and ready to go? What is the stumbling block? If I raise this issue with the Minister of State again in September, will progress have been made? Will the planning permission be lodged before the end of this year? Is there any certainty or a definitive timeline on this hugely important project for an emergency department and maternity and paediatric facilities for UHG?

We have heard all the talk of major plans elsewhere in Galway in Merlin Park yet a project that has stood up to the options appraisal carried out by Saolta with the consent of the Department has indicated that the existing site at UHG is the preferred site for an emergency department. This has been in every national plan for God knows how many years, yet no planning permission has yet been lodged. I have said previously, and I reiterate today, nothing can be built without valid planning permission and valid planning permission cannot be obtained without first lodging an application. I hope the Minister of State can shed some light on where this project is at.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Frankie Feighan)

I thank the Senator for raising this issue and giving me the opportunity to outline to the House on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, the position in regard to the new emergency department at UHG. This project is part of a larger development incorporating maternity and paediatric services and is included in the HSE capital programme for 2021.

Approval has been granted to complete a temporary extension to the emergency department to provide additional accommodation, in the first instance related to Covid requirements. The temporary ED project and associated works will also serve as an enabling works projects for the proposed permanent emergency department as it will help to free up the site required for the proposed new block. As rightly stated by the Senator, the accommodation includes segregated waiting and treatment areas, isolation rooms, additional resuscitation spaces, additional support accommodation to take account of new requirements to treat Covid-19 patients and improved infection control and prevention requirements for emergency departments. An external works in support of this temporary accommodation includes enabling works by way of roads and car parks reconfiguration, utilities and drainage diversions all to the east of the main block of UHG.

The temporary emergency department extension building will be a single storey with a rooftop plant room and will be connected to the main hospital block at the existing emergency department entrance. Site works have been under way for some time and it is expected the project will be completed by quarter 2 of 2022.

The main emergency department women’s and children’s development at University Hospital Galway is a complex project and is in the early stages of design progression. The project is of significant scale and must progress through the stages outlined in the public spending code. The full accommodation scope for the entire development has now been agreed following an internal HSE review and it is now proposed to progress the full block as one single project. The proposed project will accommodate a new permanent emergency department, including clinical areas, ancillary support services and acute surgical and medical assessment units. It will also accommodate the labour and delivery unit, operating theatres, a maternity day assessment unit and foetal assessment unit. Other proposed facilities will include a neonatal unit, ante-natal and post-natal inpatient departments, a paediatric day ward and an inpatient ward.

The Senator asked for a definitive timeline on this project but no date has been set yet for the planning application for the main building, as the project is still proceeding through the stages of the public spending code. There are several enabling works projects to be completed on site before the main building can go ahead. The design team has had preplanning meetings with the local authority on various elements of enabling works. Site enabling works will be ongoing in preparation for the main emergency department-women and children’s block development, including further road and services realignment. All capital development proposals must progress through a number of approval stages in line with the public spending code. The delivery of capital projects is a dynamic process and is subject to the successful completion of the various approval stages, which can impact on the timeline for delivery. The Senator asked if the design was 70%, 80% or 90% complete but I am not in a position to state that.

Senator Seán Kyne

I thank the Minister of State for his reply, which is much the same as one he delivered previously. It is depressing to see written down again that the project is in the early stages of design progression, considering we were told the planning application would be lodged before Christmas 2018, then it was to be February 2019, then May 2019 and then 2019. It is now July 2021 and the project is not progressing and there is no indication of when it will be progressing. I could not be confident from the Minister of State’s reply that a planning application would be ready this year. I hope I am proven wrong. I will certainly keep the pressure on the Minister of State and I ask him to keep pressure on his line Minister. This is an extremely important project. There is commitment to it but we need to get the planning application lodged, construction started and the project built.

Deputy Frankie Feighan

The Senator has raised this matter on numerous occasions. It is no harm to keep the pressure on and I thank him for doing that. As he will be aware, the project, which is part of a larger development incorporating the maternity and paediatric services, is included in the HSE capital plan for 2021. I will convey the Senator’s frustration and concern to the Minister. Unfortunately, there is no date yet set for the planning application for the main building. The project is still proceeding through the stages of the public spending code. The design team has had preplanning meetings with the local authority on various elements of enabling works. I will convey the Senator’s concerns to the Minister and advise him this needs to be progressed as quickly as possible.