Thursday, 20 January 2022
National Maternity Hospital: Motion [Private Members]
In closing, I thank the Deputies for tabling their motion. I fully recognise the importance of Government and the Opposition thoroughly scrutinising the issues under consideration. The level of interest in the development of the new national maternity hospital is a clear reflection that everyone, right across politics and across our health service, shares the same goal when it comes to the vision of our maternity and women's healthcare. As stated earlier, the goal is best summed up through the vision of the national maternity strategy: that women and babies have access to safe, high-quality care in a setting that is most appropriate to their needs; that women and families are placed at the centre of all services and are treated with dignity, respect and compassion; and that parents are supported before, during and after pregnancy to allow them to give their child the best possible start in life.
In the context of that shared vision, I reiterate that the Government remains fully committed to the development of maternity and women's health services in this country. In that regard, we are bringing a greater focus to women's health and are investing more than ever before to ensure that the progress achieved in women's health is consolidated and expanded for all women and girls into the future.
The relocation of the National Maternity Hospital is also a very significant part of the Government's objectives in this regard. We remain committed to providing the highest quality infrastructure and environment to facilitate the delivery of a modern, safe and quality maternity service for women and infants for many years to come.
It should be noted that clinicians at the National Maternity Hospital have publicly expressed support for the move, including in a letter to The Irish Timeslast June. These people are on the front line delivering babies and supporting women, and they understand how important and necessary this new facility is. It is recognised that the buildings at Holles Street are no longer fit for purpose, which underlines the importance of moving forward and developing the new national maternity hospital to facilitate the delivery of maternity and related services that are in keeping with the vision of the national maternity strategy.
In the context of discussions on the national maternity hospital project, queries have been raised regarding the State's investment and the estimated cost of the new hospital. Various figures have been referenced over the years since the move was first announced in 2013. However, it should be noted that the public spending code is designed to ensure that investment decisions are underpinned by clear policy rationale and that costs are well understood. As such, all capital development proposals, including the national maternity hospital project, must progress through several approval stages in line with the life cycle approach to the public spending code, including detailed appraisal, planning, design and procurement before a firm timeline for funding requirement can be established and approved by the Government. As a result, it would be premature for me to discuss potential costs for this project at this juncture.
The planned move of the National Maternity Hospital is a complex project and very valid concerns have been raised across a number of areas. However, I would like Deputies to know that many of those concerns were identified at an early stage and have been the subject of significant and protracted discussions over several years. The issues of governance, which have been raised today, and clinical independence have been at the core of those discussions. That is why so much time and effort has gone into developing a draft legal framework with the aim of providing the assurances we need regarding the hospital's ability to provide a full range of women's health services in accordance with the laws and policies of the State.
The bottom line is that the new hospital must, and will, provide the full spectrum of services without any undue influence that will put women's reproductive health care at risk or endanger any woman's safety. As the Minister of Health has stated strongly, that is a red line issue for him and this Government. The Minister has been very clear that he will not bring any proposal to Government unless it provides assurances around all legally permissible services being provided in the new national maternity hospital, as they are in the current hospital building. In addition, the safeguarding of the State's investment must also be put beyond doubt. In that context, there has been further engagement with stakeholders and the process will continue as we work towards the finalisation of these legal arrangements.