Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Maternity Services Provision

4:30 pm

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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I appreciate that many of the things the Government is involved in are beset by confusion, lack of budgets and lack of management, as highlighted in the discussion on the previous matter.

What exactly is happening with the Rotunda, the biggest and oldest maternity hospital in Ireland? It seems like another country since 2015 when the then Minister for Health, and now Taoiseach, announced that the Rotunda would be relocated to Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown as part of a six-year health capital programme. Based on what the Taoiseach outlined at the time, we should be in the middle of the planning if not heading towards the construction of a new maternity hospital in the north-west Dublin to allow the Rotunda to continue to provide the best of care to mothers and babies for another 100 years. All I can find are really sad stories from the Rotunda of the hospital being overwhelmed and not properly resourced by the HSE.

When the announcement about the Rotunda relocation was made, there was a timeline and a sense of planning regarding what would happen. Since then, a number of studies have been undertaken. However, no capital allocation has been made. I will not go into the difficulties besetting its sister hospital in Holles Street in moving to the campus at Elm Park. I just want to concentrate on the Rotunda and the impossible conditions that the leadership in the hospital, including the Master, Professor Fergal Malone, have outlined, such as, for example, the dangers for newborn babies and babies who require intensive care.

With the Blanchardstown project now seemingly placed on the long finger and with the facilities in the Rotunda getting older, more worn and increasingly overcrowded by the day, there have been several serious outbreaks of infection. There has been harm and illness to babies.

We have even had an argument by the master that a new urgent care facility for newborn and premature babies needs to be developed. We cannot get any answers out of the Government that make sense and that offer a budget, timeline and, most of all, hope to the families who are looking forward to having a baby, the women who will have a baby, and the babies that will be born, it is to be hoped, in conditions of maximum safety.

I know the Minister of State is sent in to the Chamber to answer questions that are not her direct responsibility as a way of deflecting the issue. What exactly is the Minister for Health for if he is not looking out for the care of mothers and babies with regard to maternity services? What is he for? I do not know what he is doing with his time. He seems to be down in places like Wicklow with schoolchildren launching the national broadband plan, which will cost €3 billion. This is an overpriced project if ever there was one. Could some of those billions not have been redirected to our maternity services? It does not seem like a difficult thing to do.

What is happening with regard to the Rotunda? When will the move to Connolly Hospital take place? Are the interim facilities that have been indicated for the west side of Parnell Square in the form of intensive care unit facilities for newborn babies being progressed or have they vanished?

4:40 pm

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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The Minister for Health cannot be here and I have been asked to take this Topical Issue matter on his behalf. I will refer back to some of the issues raised by the Deputy. On behalf of the Minister, I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter today. First, I would like to provide some background information on the decision to relocate the Rotunda Hospital to the Connolly Hospital campus. I am very familiar with the Rotunda Hospital where my mother, a number of my children and other relatives of mine have had their children. I know the history of the Rotunda and its expertise and I know the master very well.

In line with best international practice, it is Government policy that stand-alone maternity hospitals should be co-located with acute adult hospitals to provide optimal clinical outcomes. This commitment is reaffirmed in the national maternity strategy, which was published in January 2016. As the Deputy will be aware, the new children's hospital was originally planned for the Mater Hospital site and it was proposed, as recommended in the KPMG report from 2008 entitled Independent Review of Maternity and Gynaecology Services in the Greater Dublin Area, to redevelop the Rotunda Hospital on the Mater Hospital site.

In 2012, the Government decided to locate the new children's hospital at the St. James's campus. A detailed review was undertaken by the Department of Health, which considered a number of potential host sites for both hospitals. This review examined a range of factors, including demographics, a range of clinical criteria, planning risks and site capacity. In addition, the Department engaged with a number of divisions within the HSE and with the then masters of both the Rotunda and the Coombe as part of the review process.

In June 2015, the Government decided that the Coombe would be relocated to the St. James's Hospital campus while the Rotunda would be redeveloped on the Connolly Hospital campus. More recently the Minister for Health has also engaged with the master of the Rotunda, the RCSI hospital group and the HSE regarding the relocation of the Rotunda to Connolly Hospital. This included holding a meeting with these parties in July of this year.

In terms of funding the Rotunda relocation project, Project Ireland 2040 provides €10.9 billion for health capital developments throughout the country, including funding to support implementation of the national maternity strategy. The relocation of the Rotunda Hospital is one of the key infrastructure projects that will be funded under Project Ireland 2040. However, it is important that we carefully plan all capital projects to meet population health needs and achieve value for money. As I understand it, this work is ongoing.

While the Minister for Health is not in a position to outline the year-on-year provisions for any individual maternity hospital project at this stage, this will be considered through the process of the determination of service priorities and in the context of health capital planning. I can assure the House that the Government is committed to implementing its policy to co-locate all stand-alone maternity hospitals with adult acute hospitals. As the Deputy will appreciate, the Rotunda relocation project is at an early stage and will be required to progress through appraisal, planning, design and tender before a firm timeline or funding requirement can be established. I have been advised that the project briefs for the relocation of the Rotunda, as well as the Coombe and University Maternity Hospital Limerick, to acute hospital campuses will be progressed in 2020.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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This is an incredible reflection on the Taoiseach, who as Minister for Health made an announcement in 2015 concerning the Rotunda Hospital, which we all know is a very venerable hospital in old buildings that has provided centuries of care to women and babies in Dublin. According to the Minister of State's reply, it now looks as though it will just get a wave of the hand and be left to carry on in the really dangerous situation recently described by the master of that hospital in respect of neonatal care and infection risk. The Minister of State's reply basically stated that this Government has not allocated a cent or euro to the Rotunda Hospital project. Not only that, it has not even brought together a design team to begin to put together the details of what the plan for the Rotunda would be. The Minister of State said nothing about the current situation in the Rotunda and its problems, particularly with regard to infection risk and the need for a new neonatal intensive care unit outlined by the master. Her reply implies that the Connolly Hospital project seems to have slipped the Taoiseach's mind once he made a few announcements about it, and neither he nor his Government has done anything more. The Minister for Health does not even bother to come in here today to answer a question that is vital for many women, not just in Dublin but in the rest of the country and in particular their babies.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I refer back to Deputy Burton's charge that the Minister and the Government do not care about women and children. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is why we are building a state-of-the-art national children's hospital for the first time. Children from the Coombe, the Rotunda and the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street who are very vulnerable and sick are brought to Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin. We all know that we need a new national children's hospital.

Regarding the relocation of the Rotunda, I wish to make one thing very clear to the Deputy. She was in government with us back then and she knows what we were left to pick up when there was no money to put anywhere, never mind into a capital plan. For the first time with the development of Project Ireland 2040, we have an opportunity to plan, reach out and have a vision of what we want for maternity services in this country. Nobody in this House can tell me that this Government does not care about women and children, because we do. We have had a problem with funding but we are back on track in many ways.

I will convey to the Minister Deputy Burton's disappointment that he could not be here and her contention that there has been no plan, design and tender. I will relay her concerns to him, but I will not stand here and be told that this Government does not care about women and children. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a representative of the Government, I will stand here and defend our record at all times.

I apologise for being over the top about it but I believe we have excellent maternity hospitals, including the Rotunda, the Coombe and Holles Street. All of their buildings have gone past their sell-by date, however. I know in my heart and soul that the Rotunda, Holles Street and the Coombe need to be relocated. It is not down to the staff or the masters. It is down to the fact that in the past these hospitals were not kept up to a certain standard to keep them running. We are now faced with the dilemma that all maternity hospitals need to be relocated and redesigned.

I will bring Deputy Burton's views back to the Minister about how she believes nothing is being done to forward this plan. It is in Project Ireland 2040.