Dáil debates

Thursday, 20 January 2022

National Maternity Hospital: Motion [Private Members]


7:15 pm

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I wish to thank the Deputies for raising this important issue regarding the national maternity hospital. It is important to put on the record that I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, who, I am told, is currently meeting with NPHET. The Government will not be opposing the motion.

I think it is fair to say that every Member of this House shares the same goal, that is, the delivery of the best possible healthcare for women and babies. This Government has set out its stall in that regard by committing to improving women's healthcare across the board. This year, building on funding provided in 2021, we are providing significant investment in services, and continuing our focus to implement the national maternity strategy. That strategy sets out a vision for future maternity services, where women are treated with dignity and respect in an appropriate physical environment. Linked to this point, the practice of having stand-alone maternity hospitals, as is the case in four of our maternity services, does not reflect best international practice. Ensuring that mothers and babies have access to the full range of medical and support services, should the need arise, is of paramount importance. It is widely accepted that the best way to achieve this is to co-locate maternity services with adult acute services. That is why it is Government policy, as reiterated in the national maternity strategy, to co-locate the remaining stand-alone maternity hospitals with adult acute hospitals.

It is acknowledged that the buildings at Holles Street are no longer fit for purpose. The new national maternity hospital is planned to be the first of the four remaining stand-alone maternity hospitals to be co-located. The new hospital is a vital piece of infrastructure, and one that will help underpin the development of maternity services and the implementation of the national maternity strategy into the future. As has been stated by the Minister for Health on numerous occasions, the Government is committed to the development of the new national maternity hospital, as set out in the programme for Government. That being said, the Government is also very aware of concerns voiced regarding the new hospital. As set out in the motion we are discussing, those concerns centre on the ownership and clinical independence of the new hospital, and today's motion reflects that in calling for a compulsory purchase order of the site for the new hospital.

When it comes to the new national maternity hospital, howsoever achieved, we all ultimately want the same outcome, which is to ensure that all legally permissible services are provided in the new hospital. This is an absolute requirement. We must also ensure that the State's significant investment in the facility is protected. The Government understands the concerns regarding ownership and governance, and recognises that they must be addressed. It is important to note that significant work has been undertaken in this regard. This includes the appointment of Kieran Mulvey, by the Minister for Health in 2016, to intercede between the hospitals. The resulting Mulvey agreement was finalised following an extensive mediation process between the National Maternity Hospital and the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. The agreement was subsequently published and noted by Government in 2017. The Mulvey agreement provides for the establishment of a new company which will have clinical and operational, as well as financial and budgetary, independence in the provision of health services.

Following on from the Mulvey agreement, a draft legal framework has been developed which aims to copper-fasten these arrangements. In doing so, the legal framework will also address the State's core objectives which are as follows: to ensure that all clinically appropriate services that are legally permissible are provided for women who need them in the new national maternity hospital; to prevent any undue influence, religious or otherwise, in the operation of the new hospital; and to protect the State's investment in relation to capital, revenue and service provision at the new hospital for the public good.

As to the draft legal framework, as I understand it, there has been further engagement with stakeholders, and this process will continue as we work towards the finalisation of these legal arrangements. However, as the Minister for Health has previously said, he will not be making any further comment on the nature of this engagement until it concludes. What I can say definitely is that the Minister for Health has been very clear that he will not be bringing any proposal to Government regarding the new national maternity hospital unless it provides assurances around all legally permissible services being provided in the new hospital, as well as affirming that the State's investment is safeguarded.

Concerns continue to circulate regarding the potential involvement of the Religious Sisters of Charity in the new national maternity hospital. As such, the Minister for Health wishes to make it absolutely and unambiguously clear that the Sisters of Charity will not play any role in the governance or operation of our new national maternity hospital. I am advised that the Sisters of Charity has resigned from the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group board and its shareholding is to be transferred to a new charitable entity, St. Vincent's Holdings CLG. Under the terms of the service level agreement, St. Vincent's Healthcare Group requires the consent of the HSE to the share transfer. This consent has been sought by the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group and it is anticipated that this matter will be addressed in the context of the finalisation of the draft legal framework.

Let me restate that we all want the very best of care for the women and babies of this country and we want to see them treated in the best possible environments. The planned move of the National Maternity Hospital to the Elm Park campus is a key part of achieving that aim and providing the state-of-the-art facilities that women not only need, but deserve. Therefore, I would ask all Members of the House to support the Government in its continued commitment to women's health and progressing the necessary relocation of the National Maternity Hospital to an appropriate physical environment, as envisaged in the national maternity strategy. This Government's commitment to the new national maternity hospital falls very much in line with our broader commitment to delivering better health outcomes for the women of Ireland.

As demonstrated in the previous two budgets, we are investing significant funding in women's health services to ensure improvements are made and outcomes for people using the services are enhanced. This commitment is reflected in budget 2022, for example, in the allocation of €31 million for new development funding to specifically support women's health. This includes significant investment to further progress the implementation of the national maternity strategy and gynaecology service developments as well as a further €5 million for a dedicated women's health fund.

In keeping with the Government's focus on women's health, we must redouble our efforts to bring the national maternity hospital project to the next phase but with all of the necessary assurances on the services to be provided for women. Doing so will help us to provide the necessary infrastructure and environment to realise our common goal, which is woman-centred, modern, safe and quality healthcare for women and their families that is delivered with compassion, dignity and respect.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.