Hopes that the new state-of-the-art palliative care unit at St. Ita’s Hospital, Newcastle West would finally open are receding, following information conveyed to the Friends of St. Ita’s Hospital recently.

At a meeting with the HSE, representatives of the voluntary group were informed that the long awaited palliative care in-patient beds in the state-of-the-art Jasmine Unit at St. Ita’s Hospital, which opened its doors for palliative day care patients in October 2009, are to remain closed.

The Friends were informed that the overall situation (bed space etc) at St. Ita’s Hospital was currently under review, that in rela-tion to palliative care the requirements in this regard had now changed greatly and that the emphasis in relation to palliative care was now on home care, living independently at home as long as possible with consultancy services via Milford; that Milford Care Centre was expand-ing its palliative care service with a new 32-bed unit being built to help cater for the needs of the midwest, that the require-ment for palliative care inpatient beds as originally intended for St. Ita’s no longer existed, and that the unit as a stand-alone building did not lend itself to inpatient bed use because of the revenue implications etc which could not be justified.

The Jasmine Unit, which is a stand-alone in the grounds of St. Ita’s Hos-pital, has eight beds: it was originally planned that four would accommodate day patients with the other four reserved for in-patient services. The HSE inform-ed the Friends that it is now being proposed to have two palliative inpatient beds (nurse-led) located in the main hospital building and that the existing palliative day-care service in the Jasmine Unit would continue and perhaps be expanded to include other day-hospital services.

“We conveyed our grave disappointment with the unfolding news which came as a total bombshell to us, given that this was the HSE’s own initiative involving local and senior management from HSE Mid-West as well as the CEO from Milford Care Centre in the preparation of plans etc for this pro-posed facility in response to an identified urgent need for such a palliative care/hospice service at that time for west Limerick. We now find that this pur-pose built facility only 10 years on is considered no longer fit for purpose other than its current day care use,” said the chairman of the Friends of St. Ita’s, Fergus Scanlan. “Our understanding was and the reason given by the HSE for the non-opening was the moritorium on recruitment in the public service and budget con-straints arising from the economic recession, and that when economic stability returned the unit would open to its full capacity. This was the reason given to the Friends.”

The Friends of St. Ita’s Hospital contributed €1.225 million towards the provision of the €2.5million palliative care unit and in addition a further €433,666 towards furnishing costs.

On a more positive note, the new 22-bed €2 million rehab unit to which the Friends are contributing €1.37 million is due to open in the next few weeks with no revenue impli-cations, and it will be of major benefit to the community.