Minister for Health Simon Harris has confirmed the Health Service Executive will need almost €5m in new funding to open a long-awaited hospice unit in Waterford but has allocated just €300,000 this year for "preparing" for the opening.
The Government has yet to agree to allocate the necessary money to staff the service, with a decision expected to be made as part of the budget and estimates process in the coming weeks.
Local people have raised over €4.4m in recent years, and the voluntary Waterford Hospice Movement has committed to bringing that figure to €6m, towards the cost of building the new palliative care unit on the grounds of University Hospital Waterford.
However, while construction is complete and the 20-bed facility is ready to be used, it is feared that it will be mid-2020 at the earliest before it will be fully operational because the money to staff the unit has yet to be committed by Government.
Members of the Waterford Hospice Movement told RTÉ News last week of their "great disappointment" that the unit, which occupies the lower two floors of a new €31.2m building on the UHW campus, is lying idle.
Local Oireachtas members are due to meet Minister Harris before the end of this week to press for the necessary funding to be allocated to allow the unit be staffed and opened.
In a response to Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane, Mr Harris said: "The HSE has allocated €300,000 in 2019 for the purpose of preparing the South East Palliative Care Unit for opening in 2020. A total of €4.8m in revenue funding will be required for the cost of staffing the centre in 2020, with an estimated full-year cost of €5m when at full capacity".
The minister added that the level of funding available for all palliative care services across the country in 2020, including provision for the new centre in Waterford, "will be considered in the context of the forthcoming estimates and budgetary planning, and national service planning".
Last week, the Waterford Hospice Movement said that apart from the disappointment at having no funding available yet to staff the unit, it is also concerned that the setback will make it more difficult to raise the rest of the €6m which it agreed to find locally.
"We are calling on the public to voice their dissatisfaction with this current situation and make their elected representatives aware that the people of the southeast are tired of being ignored and neglected in relation to healthcare provision in general, and now, sadly, end-of-life care," chairperson Danette Connolly said.
The Waterford-based unit contains 20 inpatient bedrooms, with individual gardens, and is designed to be staffed by a specialist palliative care multi-disciplinary team.