While politicians and health professionals agree that a national children’s hospital is a necessity, arguments over its location are delaying progress.
Last October, the former Health Minister Mary Harney confirmed that controversial plans for a 440-bed national paediatric hospital to be built at the Mater site in Dublin would go ahead. At that time it was estimated that the project would cost €650 million and the state would contribute €450 million, leaving a €200 million shortfall.
The new Fine Gael-Labour coalition has stated its commitment to building the hospital. However, the National Children’s Hospital Alliance, made up of doctors and parents, is opposed to building on the Mater site and claims that there will be problems with traffic congestion and parking because of its close proximity to the city centre.
Dubliner and new Health Minister James Reilly has now re-ignited the debate, stating that the hospital could be built for €440 million and that he will review its location. While he isn’t opposed to the Mater site, he said the issue “has to be fully reviewed with all the facts on the table” and he will consider other sites if they are more cost effective.
“Specifically, we are given to understand that a 440-bed hospital of this nature should cost €440 million. If it transpires that the additional cost of €200 million is due to this hospital’s location, then this is not something, in such a deep recession, that we can afford to ignore,” he commented.
In a private letter to Reilly, the chairman of the hospital’s development board, John Gallagher, outlined details of a review he has carried out on the project, but it has been described as a “solo run” by other board members who weren’t aware of its details. Following his review, Gallagher stated that “the Mater campus is both capable of being and suitable to be the site of the new children’s hospital.”
He also welcomed the Health Minister’s decision to carry out a review but argues it needs to be done in a “very timely fashion, as any delay at this point will impact on the timeframe and the cost of completing the hospital”.
Philip Lynch, who stepped down as board chairman last October, disagrees with Gallagher and is opposed to building at the Mater.
He has publicly criticised the Mater site as a “political decision”. He argues that it is too expensive to build on the site and advised that the application should be rejected by An Bord Pleanala because of access and traffic problems.
Lynch also claimed that Bertie Ahern promised the Sisters of Mercy that the hospital would be built on the Mater site. He said three other sites are available for free and is urging the government to consider Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin.
Speaking on Morning Ireland, he said: “The location needs to be revisited in the interest of parents, sick children and the taxpayers.”
However, former HSE Chief Executive Brendan Drumm branded Lynch’s claims as “absolute rubbish” and rejected suggestions there had been a “conspiracy”.
When asked about the timescale of the review, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Children said: “The Minister has been briefed in detail by his officials on current proposals for the national children’s hospital.” She added that Reilly will now discuss the matter with Gallagher and will then decide on the “next steps in his consideration of the matter”.
The Government has already spent around €30 million on preparations for the site but planning permission has still to be submitted and it is expected the hospital will not be ready until 2015.