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Speech of An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar T.D., Official Opening of the Acute Stroke Unit Rowan Ward, Connolly Hospital

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

It’s a privilege to be here for the official opening of the new Acute Stroke Unit.

Coming here always brings back happy memories and every time I return I see new changes for the better.

Last year, I was here for the sod-turning to mark the start of work on the new paediatric outpatients and urgent care centre.

Today I see that the external work on the centre is complete. The project is on target, with handover of the building planned for early Spring and the opening scheduled for July 2019.

Your commitment and hard work made this possible and I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to everyone involved.

The development, modernisation and expansion of our health service is Government policy.

The health service is rarely in the news for the right reasons – waiting lists, overcrowding, patient safety.

Next year the health budget will be €17 billion. This is the highest in the history of the State, and we are determined to make sure that this extra money gets to the patient. We have 1,500 more nurses than two years ago; 10,000 doctors – more than ever before; this year, 250 more beds in our hospitals, and 120 Primary Care centres up and running. And there’s more to come in terms of recruitment and investment next year.

Above all though we need to make sure this investment results in better care and better outcomes for our patients.

We are already seeing some good results.

We are living longer and healthier lives than ever before. Today more people survive cancer than die from it. And survival rates for stroke and heart attacks are also improving. Waiting times for operations and procedures are going down. 84% of patients, when asked, said their experience of our public health service was good or very good.

These things didn’t just happen by accident. They were a direct result of Government policies and strategies, Government spending and resources on new treatments and technology, and, most importantly, the professionalism and quality of you, our healthcare staff.

The story of how we treat stroke in our country is a good example of what we can achieve.

Every year about 10,000 people have a stroke in Ireland and around 7,000 require acute hospital admission as a result. As we know, strokes can be fatal, and in other cases they can lead to permanent and devastating disabilities.

When you think that 30,000 people are living in our communities with stroke related disabilities, then you realise how significant good care is.

In all published guidelines stroke unit care is recognised as the most fundamental element of stroke care.

The logic is simple. Stroke units improve patient outcomes, lead to a reduction in mortality rates, dependency and disability, and to shorter lengths of stay in hospitals.
Last year, 69% of stroke patients accessed stroke unit care, and three-quarters of those patients spent the majority of their hospital stay in a stroke unit.

As a Government we want to ensure that all hospitals admitting stroke patients have a stroke unit or, in the absence of a unit, an agreed bypass arrangement formalised with the National Ambulance Service.

Over the past eight years, 11 new stroke units have opened, bringing the total number to 23.

Two further stroke units are in development and within the first three months of 2019 all hospitals will have an acute stroke care unit or bypass arrangement in place.

This is a major and much needed improvement. The first national stroke care audit report in 2006 revealed that we only had one stroke unit in our country.

So we are light years ahead of where we were a little more than a decade ago.

Today’s official opening of your Acute Stroke Unit marks more than another important milestone in Connolly’s history. It is a statement about our health priorities for the country.

When it comes to stroke care we want to do four things right:
· Prevention;
· Acute Care and Cure;
· Rehabilitation and Restoration; and
· Education and Research.

This approach is already bearing results and there has been a 27% reduction in total stroke mortality and a 38% reduction in mortality in ischaemic stroke since 2005. This is a phenomenal achievement.

This vision has been realised and the new acute stroke unit will be a place of healing, caring and recovery for patients and their families.

Finally I would like to thank the entire multidisciplinary team: Lisa Donaghy, Denise Hartigan, Dr. Eamon Dolan and Dr. Marie O’Connor.

I would also like to thank Margaret Boland, the General Manager of Connolly Hospital; Professor Conor Burke; and all the staff of Connolly Hospital for your hard work in delivering this unit. Your dedication to your patients is exemplary.

Thank you.