10 Aug 2022

Primary Care Centre for Offaly town now earmarked for 2023

Primary Care Centre 2

Primary Care Centre for Offaly town now earmarked for 2023

It looks like there might be some light at the end of the tunnel with the news that Birr could finally have its primary care centre by 2023.

While it's also expected, there'll be some further news in the near future about how and where this project will be delivered in Birr after the procurement process was “unpaused” by the HSE.

Over the last number of years, there has been growing frustration and anger amongst the people of Birr with the HSE because of what some have described as the organisation's inability to push the project over the line in recent times.

The process for the centre's provision has been an ongoing saga, which has seen the goalposts changed on several occasions over the last number of years. This included a vote against the approval of the material contravention for a site at Birr Rugby Club in 2018 by the majority of Offaly County councillors. This planning application was subsequently appealed to An Bord Pleanala where the decision of the county councillors was upheld on the grounds of the possible impact on economic trading in the town centre and the reduction in green spaces.

The HSE then went back to the drawing board in 2019 and as part of this process, a council owned site at the Rectory Field was also explored as a possible site for the proposed project.

Speaking during an update to county councillors this week on the procurement process for the PCC in Birr, a HSE official outlined that “the option of the Rectory site came into play and this was explored”. T

he HSE then took the decision to pause the expression of interest process and examine the suitability of the Rectory field” but with this proposal rejected last year, another hammer blow was dealt to the delivery of a primary care centre in the town.

Now almost two years later, the town faces the situation where a primary care centre has been recently opened in Banagher and Roscrea looks set to have one delivered before the Birr project even has a shovel put in the ground.

However, following a recent meeting between HSE officials and Birr MD members, there appears to be a sliver of hope that an announcement will finally be made by the HSE about the provision of a PCC in Birr in the near future and on how and where the project will be delivered in the town.

Speaking at the February meeting of the Birr Municipal District this week, HSE officials informed the local authority members that the process to provide a centre has since been “unpaused” and was now at Stage 3 after the process was reactiviated by the organisation in November 2020.

According to HSE officials, this decision to “unpause” the process was taken after the proposed Council owned site at the Rectory Field, Birr was rejected by local GPs last year as it was “something they [the GPs] didn't not wish to proceed with”.
The monthly meeting heard that three submissions by developers subsequently qualified as part of this stage 3 process and the receipt of detailed information from these potential developers on their submissions passed on January 15 last.

According to the schedule of accommodation for the proposed project, it's envisaged the centre will approximately 2,500 square metres in size and will include the provision of mental health services, public health, primary care service, diagnostic services and GP services at the centre as well as space being allocated for a Birr Ambulance base.

Addressing the meeting, Joseph Ruane, Head of Primary Care, Midlands DML Midlands area, outlined how the HSE was committed to the provision of a PCC in Birr. “We have to be committed and we are.... Absolutely. It's the simple position...This is a generational opportunity for the town. This is Birr's generational opportunity. We are committed to doing it. And, uniquely in Birr, all the GPs are on board...... This means you are going to have a one stop location under one roof for all the HSE and GPs services. This is an absolutely brilliant opportunity,” he remarked.

According to the HSE official, when they met in November 2019, “nobody could envisage what was going to happen in 2020”. “Everything stopped in terms of the HSE developmental plans because we were responding to the outbreak of Covid-19 and how we would deal with it,” he outlined.

The meeting then heard how the HSE then re engaged with the GPS in July/August 2020 as part of the process. “However, ultimately, the decision was made that there wasn't universal agreement in terms of proceeding with the site [Rectory Field] so we triggered the stage 3. ...... For this to work, it has to have the HSE, the GPs, land available and someone to build it,” he pointed out.

“We then triggered stage 3 and the three individuals, who were part of stage 3 previously, were re-informed and a timeframe was given for them to submit proposals, which has been done,” Mr Ruane added.

Later, he said again the HSE are committed to the project. “I know there is a long history in relation to the PCC in Birr..... But we are at the point now where we are through stage 3 and the letter of intent is being issued. The HSE is committed to this,” he stated.

Niall Colleary of the HSE Estates Office, later indicated that previously earmarked time frame of the end of 2022 would be described as “optimistic” for the delivery of this project and it looked likely to head into 2023.
However, he did say that if all went according to plan and the planning permission was granted, it would be heading into 2023. “It can take a bit of time and it's never the same window or timeframe as it can fluctuate....But, definitely, we are looking at 2023 but it all hinges on statutory approval,” he concluded


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