By John Walsh, Apr 29 2019 04:03PM
The recent Price Waterhouse Cooper report disclosed a damning picture of mismanagement regarding the project for the National Children’s Hospital. The report concluded that the cost of building the hospital at the St. James' site could well exceed €1.7 billion due to failures in planning and oversight and might go much higher. This has potentially devastating implications for the public capital programme and could delay other vital projects indefinitely.
But even more worrying is the mounting evidence that the Government has selected the wrong site for the hospital. Prof. Chris Fitzpatrick, former master of the Coombe Hospital, warned the Public Accounts Committee recently that the State risked ‘a financial and medical catastrophe’ if the new Children’s Hospital went ahead without being co-located with a maternity hospital. So far no move has been made to build a maternity hospital on the same site, despite overwhelming medical opinion that co-location is required. There is a real risk that the project on its current site is turning into a policy disaster, with deeply worrying implications for patients and their families.
A plan to transfer the Rotunda to James Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown was approved by the previous Government in 2015 and was originally meant to happen by 2020. There is now a final opportunity to achieve co-location between the new Children’s Hospital and a maternity hospital on the same site in Blanchardstown, closely linked to Connolly Hospital.
The Government should commission a short-term feasibility study led by a medical practitioner to reconsider the case for a combined project involving the National Children’s Hospital and the transfer of the Rotunda to an alternative site adjacent to Connolly Hospital. This study could be started immediately and a report made within 3-4 months, with a similar tight timeframe to the Price Waterhouse review, which unwisely excluded the St. James' site from its terms of reference.
This is the right time for the Government to reconsider its original decision to locate the Children’s hospital on the highly constrained site at St. James' Hospital. A range of expert medical practitioners have pointed to the advantages of Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown – most recently, Prof. Fitzpatrick commented on its ‘unrivalled advantages’ as a site for the National Children’s Hospital. These advantages include accessibility for patients travelling from all over the country to a hospital just off the M50; the availability of ample land and space for development and the greater likelihood of co-location with a maternity hospital.
The stakes are very high in terms of getting this decision wrong – not just in financial terms but much more important in terms of the consequence for the wellbeing of children. This is simply too important for the Government to ignore the growing problems with the current site and dismiss the compelling alternative offered by Connolly Hospital. Patients and their families will have to live with the consequences of this decision for a generation and it is crucial to get it right.