Despite being in serious breach of infrastructural standards and offering its residents limited and cramped bedside space, St Patrick’s Hospital in Waterford is to remain operational at least until the opening of a new facility on the grounds in a couple of years’ time.
This week, the Government decided to extend an agreed deadline to upgrade or close all sub-standard nursing homes across the country to 2021.
The deadline had originally been set for July last and would have specifically affected St Patrick’s in Waterford and a number of other old-fashioned nursing homes across the country that patient safety watchdog Hiqa identified as not meeting agreed infrastructural standards.
A report undertaken over two days last January by Hiqa at the 96-bed community hospital raised concerns about the “predominantly institutional” 1950s-style dormitory accommodation being inadequate.
It added that residents’ “privacy and dignity was (not been satisfactorily) met on a daily basis” due to limited space between beds.
Inspectors formed the view that there were inadequate storage facilities available for residents’ personal belongings in the wards, to the effect that residents could only display minimal personal effects, could not receive many visitors and could not spend quiet time alone.
The report noted numerous challenges posed by the structure and layout of the physical environment, including a large ramp leading to one ward which made accessing this area very difficult for residents with reduced mobility.
St Patrick’s was one of 21 nursing homes across the country which had been given until July to meet HIQA’s standards or face sanctions, including a forced reduction in their number of residents or high-dependency patients, the prevention of the hospital from admitting more patients and possible closure.
In recent days, Hiqa was instructed by the Department of Health to extend this compliance date to 2021 for public and voluntary homes.
Following the Government decision Nursing Homes Ireland, which represents private homes, said it is seeking urgent legal advice on behalf of many private nursing homes who went into major financial debt to meet the July date.
Spokesperson Tadhg Daly has accused the Government of ‘double standards’ in the care of older people. “It raises major issues about political interference with health regulation and inequality of ¬standards,” he said.
St Patrick’s has been operating at a reduced capacity since 2009, when the 19-bed upper floor St Brigid’s Ward in St Patrick’s Hospital was closed by the HSE on foot of a report from Hiqa citing concerns in regard to health and fire safety.
The Government at that time promised to build a new 50-bed Community Nursing Unit on the grounds of St Patrick’s.
Following years of campaigning and a weekly picket outside St Patrick’s, a new €20 million,100-bed Community Unit at St Patrick’s was included in the latest Capital Programme.
Planning permission has not yet been lodged for the new building, with Government TDs stating it will be submitted by the end of 2015.
A preliminary design was completed by the first quarter of this year, while a scheme design with room layouts has also been completed.