A phased reopening of Wexford General Hospital is being planned for next week following a fire which broke out on Wednesday.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly surveyed the damage following the blaze, which resulted in the State’s largest hospital evacuation.
Mr Donnelly took a tour around the damaged hospital with clinical director Professor Obada Taha Yousif and General Manager Linda O’Leary.
The fire at the 280-bed facility broke out shortly before 4pm on Wednesday and was brought under control within several hours by more than 40 firefighters from across Wexford and Waterford. No patients or staff were injured.
It was the first time a major emergency incident was declared in the county by the joint agencies of the HSE, gardaí and Wexford County Council.
Several wards sustained water and smoke damage and there was a full evacuation of the hospital.
HSE and privately-run ambulances from across the south-east worked throughout the night to collect patients and bring them to other hospitals, including those in Kilkenny, Waterford, Cork and Dublin.
Sixteen ambulance crews from the Order of Malta and Irish Red Cross were also called to the scene from as far away as Mullingar.
Up to 207 patients have been moved from the hospital so far, while 29 further patients remain at the facility. However, hospital management expect the remaining patients will be able to remain there.
It is also expected that out-patient appointments will be able to resume on Monday.
Speaking from outside the hospital on Thursday, Mr Donnelly said: “The damage is quite extensive there is no question about it. We’ve walked through areas where there are a lot of in-patient beds, endoscopy suites, maternity units and other services within the hospital.
“There is clearly damage from the fire, damage from the smoke and there’s water damage.
“We need to let the experts come in now and get an evaluation on what remedial actions are required to get the services back up and running as quickly as possible.”
He added: “I want to be absolutely clear on this, there is no doubt whatsoever on this that I hope we will not see any elected representatives using this (fire) to start scaremongering. I really hope everyone has a calm and sensible response.
“I want to be absolutely clear and unambiguous about the conversations I’ve ever had, and the Government has had, about Wexford General Hospital.
“You are aware that we are putting in a new 96-bed unit, but the conversation now is how we can put it in quicker.
“Let me be absolutely clear that everything that is required in terms of funding and other supports to get the hospital back up and running will be provided and building up the capacity of this outstanding hospital.”
Mr Donnelly pointed out that electrical, mechanical and reports of the structural integrity of the building will be needed on when the hospital is reopened.
He also told South East Radio: “The experts are going to have to take a look. We’ll need reports on the electrics, we’ll need reports on the mechanical situation and the structural integrity of the building. It will be some time before we know.
“The conversations we are having is around a phased reopening as there were parts of the hospital which were not damaged like the Emergency Department.
“The teams are already thinking through what services can be opened quickly. There is no question from what I’ve seen that some of the work will take time.”
Mr Donnelly also praised the work of all dealing with the fire.
“Everyone who has been involved in the extraordinary response here from the workers in the hospital, we had an amazing response from the ambulance crews who are always outstanding who got critical care patients transferred and other patients also.
“There are still patients in the hospital who are receiving great care.”
Senior assistant chief fire officer Ray Murphy said a piece of machinery is most likely the cause of the fire in a plant room on the roof. However, he added that the cause of the fire has not yet been “fully determined”, but assured there was “no asbestos or other chemical run off risk”.
Mr Murphy said the scale of the damage was “medium to small” and was confined to a small part of the hospital which has three wards nearby.
A gaping hole in the roof of part of the building is clearly visible.
Hospital management are hoping that parts of the hospital will be able to re-open by next week, however it may take weeks or months to accommodate a full intake of patients again.
The latest statement from the Ireland East Hospital Group said: “There are now 29 patients remaining to be transported out of Wexford General Hospital. However, these patients can be treated at the hospital if appropriate.
“The HSE and technical teams will work in collaboration with the gardaí and the forensic teams are assessing the damage at Wexford General Hospital. Hospital management are hoping to decide later regarding possibly re-opening next week on what level of activity that the hospital will be at.
“However, this is dependent on advice and feedback from different technical teams.”
They reiterated that out-patient appointments and elective surgeries are cancelled for the coming days, and the ED will also remain closed.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, who was in Wexford town for the opening of Trinity Wharf on the Quay and who has responsibility for the Fire Services, praised the work of emergency services, the local authority, gardaí and Civil Defence who worked throughout the day and night.
“All of the State’s emergency services worked well together,” he said.
Local junior minister James Browne added: “The damage done to Wexford General Hospital is very serious. Anything possible to get this hospital rebuilt as quickly as possible will be done. Obviously an assessment has to be done to what is necessary.
“Phenomenal bravery was shown and the fire services really risked their lives, quick thinking of management.”