WHILE the Dunmore Wing now resplendently stands at the main entrance to University Hospital Waterford (UHW), news regarding its long-awaited staffing and opening remains sadly uncertain.
And with the HSE stating last week that staff for the 20-bed Palliative Care Unit will only occur “when a budget is allocated”, one of Waterford’s leading hospice advocates has spoken of her disgust with such a delay.
“My heart is broken over it,” said Marie Cummins, whose sterling efforts to raise money for Waterford Hospice for over three decades are recognised widely on both banks of the Suir.
Speaking to the Waterford News & Star, Marie (who still “does her bit” for Waterford Hospice while no longer being a committee member) said: “It’s killing me that this unit, after all the efforts so many people made and after all the support given to Hospice by the people of Waterford, still isn’t open. First of all, we were told that €2.5 million was needed; the next thing was it went up to €6 million. But rather than give out about what that meant for anyone in terms of fundraising, we just got on with it, the effort is ongoing and the support of the general public has been absolutely incredible. But we still don’t know when this unit is going to be open or when it will be staffed. Those who require palliative care in Waterford and their families deserve better.”
It was hoped that the 20-bed Palliative Care Unit might have opened before the end of the summer. Back in May, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told this newspaper that he was looking forward to opening the new facility, which will occupy the first two floors of the Dunmore Wing. The three floors above it are set to house a further 72 beds.
In response to a parliamentary question to Deputy David Cullinane, the HSE said staffing for the new unit would be delivered “when a budget is allocated”. In reaction, an incredulous TD stated: “I do not understand why this is the case. Both HSE and Community Healthcare Organisation (CHO) management have known for some time that the new unit was coming down the line, so for them to tell me that they are waiting for a budget allocation simply does not make any sense. Why wasn’t there a joined-up approach to this?”
Deputy Cullinane added: “According to the HSE no staff can be hired until the budget is signed off on. Yet I have not been told why that has not happened as of yet. I asked how many staff were due to be hired and the HSE cannot even tell me that. This is unacceptable. The people of Waterford and the South East deserve better. This unit is needed today. It needs to be staffed. The funds need to be released.”
Marie Cummins described the latest development as “devastating”.
“I nearly got sick when I was told about the headline in The Irish Times. The unit was supposed to be open at the beginning of this year and still we’ve no idea when it will be opened. I have heard some horrendous stories about people dying and the lack of privacy terminally ill people and their families have had to put up with. People in their most vulnerable conditions with just a screen around them when they’re dying. Where’s the dignity in that? This unit is so badly needed, to have your own private room and your dignity but we still don’t know when we’re going to get it. And when will we have the 100 staff we need for the unit as, and I’ve thought about this so, so much over the years, I feel you would need five staff per bed in that unit. Where’s the recruitment process for those staff? Those positions should have been advertised when the wing was being built. Why is it that we’re on the backburner for everything down here? I just can’t understand it.”
To date, Waterford Hospice (which declined to comment when contacted on Friday last) has handed over €4 million to the HSE in relation to the Palliative Care Unit project.
Over the years, different iterations of the Waterford Hospice Committee have enjoyed a strong working relationship with local HSE officials. However, the staffing of such a facility firmly remains a matter for national consideration.