Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.Photo. Ger Rogers Photo

Decision on hospice site expected soon

With the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly due to make a decision shortly on the site for a new Midlands hospice in Offaly, one campaigner has repeated her strong belief that land at Arden Lane, Tullamore, is more suitable than the second site being considered, at Wellwood along the Tullamore bypass.

Veronica Larkin from North Westmeath Hospice said the Arden Lane site received the most votes from hospice group representatives to be the home for a new 20-bed regional hospice in Tullamore after the suitability of all of the sites was considered under several headings in a tender-like judging process.

The Wellwood site is earmarked to be the location for a planned private hospital and significant outpatient capacity which is currently being developed by local construction company, John Flanagan Developments. Ms Larkin underlined the importance of a hospice being developed on a ground floor so that patients have easy access to the outdoors, something that would not be possible at Wellwood, and that there is room for extra services and expansion on the larger three acre Arden site in the future.

“I would hope the wisdom, sense and realism will see out the day,” she said on Midlands 103 earlier this week.

“We badly, badly need that hospice and we are long enough putting up with second best in the Midlands. We need the best for the people of the Midlands. We need the best outcome and that's my honest opinion.”

Back in February, the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly confirmed the original plan for a hospice beside Tullamore Hospital had been abandoned, saying it was the best site available at the time but it came with “significant limitations”. Since then two other sites had become available for the appraisal by the HSE, he added.

Tullamore Lions Club, who set up the massive Hooves 4 Hospice group and fundraising campaign for the hospice facility, sourced a site at Arden Lane, beside the pitch and putt club, and this Ms Larkin said was presented to the HSE and found to be suitable. Offaly Hospice also sourced the Wellwood site, along the bypass which is owned by John Flanagan Developments, and it these two that are now in the running to be chosen.

While there are understood to be concerns about the zoning of the Arden site, Ms Larkin previously said she hoped planners would see the merits in this much needed regional facility.

Minister Donnelly has committed €24 million to the project and said he is keen that the hospice be built. He is expected to announce the preferred site very soon.

Having listened to HSE estates, clinicians, looking at each site under various headings and walking each plot of land, all of the hospice representatives voted, and Veronica Larkin said the Arden lane site got the highest votes of the representatives “beyond a marginal difference”.

“We met the Minister in Tullamore subsequently, and to me, the difference was enough to see the Arden Lane site through,” Veronica Larkin told Midlands 103 this week.

“To me, there are three elements, one, the hospital site in my view is ruled out. It’s busy, it’s small with no room for expansion. It’s down to two, between the Arden Lane and the Wellwood site.”

She said the Arden Lane site was more suitable for the construction of a hospice on a single floor, and had greater scope for future expansion.

“The advice we got from the HSE estates team and the clinicians was their preferred site was the Arden Lane site. I’m in agreement with them,” she repeated on local radio.

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said a decision on the site for a new regional hospice will be announced shortly.

“I’ve visited both sites, I’ve gone through the scoring (to select the site), I’m not satisfied that it captured everything. I’ve spoken to other people in palliative care, I’ve spoken to other people within the hospital as well. I’m not satisfied the scoring adequately captured all of the criteria and so I’ve taken it under advice and I’ll be making a decision very shortly,” the Minister told Midlands 103 in recent days.

The HSE previously confirmed to the Offaly Independent that both Offaly Hospice and the Hooves 4 Hospice group had offered to donate their respective sites to the HSE for the purposes of the Midlands Hospice “at no cost/charge to the HSE”, but clarified that arrangements in respect of the sites and their current owners “is a matter for the local voluntary groups”.

A spokesperson for Offaly Hospice said in February that they have been given “the option to buy a site” on the Wellwood campus which they will then donate to the HSE in order to expedite the construction of the hospice.

Commenting in February on possible plans to co-locate the new 20-bed Midlands Hospice on the Wellwood campus, Dominic Doheny, Joint Managing Director of John Flanagan Developments said that, while the developers of the site had been “kept at arm’s length” throughout the appraisal process for the hospice, he stressed it would make “perfect sense” to have all local health-related facilities on the one campus, and would serve to create a healthcare campus in Tullamore which would be “the envy of the country”.

A local group established by Tullamore Lions Club, Hooves 4 Hospice, has raised close to €1m and the agreement of all the hospice groups in the Midlands on Tullamore as the location was seen as key to it getting the go-ahead from the Government.