€22m hospice could have helped my dying wife -- but yet it remains empty
IT'S got some of the best facilities in the country but this €22m hospice is to remain a white elephant.
Instead of providing respite for families, it sits empty as the HSE has now admitted that it is unlikely to find money to open the St Francis Hospice in Blanchardstown this year.
And as a result its 24-bed inpatient facility will remain idle indefinitely.
It's a situation that people including Dublin widower Ned Walsh find hard to comprehend. His wife Rose spent her last days in St Francis Hospice in Raheny before passing away from cancer in 2011.
He praised the excellent care she received but said the Blanchardstown facility would have suited them more.
"It's a great pity for anybody locally to find it's not open," said Mr Walsh. "She was very sick. I looked after her for as long as I could but at the end I could not do so.
"I'm living in Laurel Lodge in Castleknock. I would be within a mile of the Connolly campus. For anybody in Dublin 15 obviously the Blanchardstown facility is very close and very accessible and ideal if it had to be used," said Mr Walsh.
"It's very, very unsatisfactory for people locally. I don't know when that's going to change."
He said the difference between the facilities in Raheny and Blanchardstown for people living in Dublin 15 is "five minutes travel as against 30 minutes travel".
St Francis Hospice CEO Ethel McKenna told the Herald: "It's difficult to see where the funding will come from unless the Minister for Health (James Reilly) takes some initiative."
The inpatient facility in Dublin 15 is the only "outstanding issue" as the day care centre is open two days a week and the palliative care team is based there five days a week, she said.
"The reason why we built in Blanchardstown was so people would not have to travel," Ms McKenna said.
A HSE spokeswoman said funding for the provision of inpatient palliative care in Dublin 15 has been sought but "as of yet this has not been secured due to current budget constraints".
"St Francis Hospice and the Health Service Executive will continue to work in partnership to achieve the overall objective of provision of comprehensive palliative care services throughout North Dublin city and county," she added.
The spokeswoman said: "As the HSE Dublin North East Regional Service Plan has yet to be agreed, there is currently no indication of funding to be approved for the Blanchardstown site in 2013."
The need for a hospice in the Dublin North West region was identified a number of years ago.
The government eventually chose a 6.8 acre site on the Abbotstown lands for the facility and it was built in 2011 using bank loans taken out by the St Francis group, which also has a facility in Raheny.
St Francis Hospice in Raheny has been providing specialist palliative care services to the people of North Dublin city and county for 22 years.
Since September 2001, it has been providing services for the Dublin North West area.
"The community palliative care team is based in the hospice in Blanchardstown and provides hospice day care and outpatient services for two days per week," the HSE said.
Revenue funding of €193,000 was given in 2011 for these services and it increased to €386,000 for a full year into 2012.
One of the reasons for the delay in providing funding for the inpatient facility is a dispute over the operating costs, it is understood.
Fine Gael councillor Kieran Dennison said: "The St Francis Hospice in Blanchardstown is a wonderful new facility but we need to be realistic about the cost of staffing and operating it.
"I understand the HSE have been taken aback at the staffing levels required. We need to establish if these are absolutely necessary. I know there will be raised eyebrows at the need for two full-time consultants and the €60,000 fee for the chaplain for example."
St Francis Hospice has submitted an estimate of €4,449,578 in respect of the pay and non-pay cost of opening the beds.
If necessary, it is willing to open 12 of the 24 beds to further cut funding requirements.