Seanad debates

Tuesday, 26 September 2023

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Hospital Facilities

1:00 pm

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Senator for his question. Everybody in both this House and the Dáil is in agreement about the absolute necessity of the national children's hospital and the important role it will play for many young children and their families. I can understand, and hear in his voice, the Senator’s frustration at again raising this issue in the House. He raised it in March 2022 and he is now back with it again.

The new children's hospital project is the largest health capital project in the history of the State. It will transform the delivery of paediatric healthcare. It comprises the main hospitals at St. James's Hospital campus and two satellite facilities in Blanchardstown and Tallaght. Both satellite centres are now open, which is important to acknowledge. I am pleased to report that the construction and equipping phase of the main hospital is now approximately 90% complete against the contract value. The capital budget approved by the Government in 2018 is €1.433 billion, within which the contract value for construction is approximately €910 million. This capital budget has not been depleted, with €1.35 billion drawn down to date. There are also wider programme costs relating to the new ICT and electronic health record systems and the costs associated with the integration at the three existing children's hospitals. This brings the total programme's cost budget to €1.73 billion, the figure the Senator quoted. In 2018, there were costs not comprehended within the capital budget and they will need to be addressed, including the impact of the once-in-a-generation increase in construction inflation.

Unfortunately, the project will take longer than we would have hoped, and this too will add to the final cost. I reassure the Senator, however, that everything possible is being done to ensure this important project will be completed as soon and cost-effectively as possible. Definitive updates, or outturn forecasts on the final costs, cannot be provided at this time. Speculation of costs outside of the approved budget when a live contract is in place could adversely affect contractual relationships and, consequently, the project itself. Large healthcare infrastructural projects are difficult and expensive to build. We see this around the world; Ireland and the NCH are not unique in this regard. It is also important to dispel the myth that this is the most expensive hospital in the world; it simply is not. Unlike other hospitals internationally, it has been designed to be as enduring and adaptable as possible for 75 to 100 years, rather than the normal 25- to 30-year span.

Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that the national children's hospital project has had significant challenges.With challenges come learnings. The updated public spending code requires these learnings to form part of the plan for the relocation of the national maternity hospital to Elm Park. The national maternity hospital project team has had ongoing engagement with the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, NPHDB, to inform the development of the national maternity hospital project. Lessons learned from the NCH have been, and will continue to be, incorporated into the plans for the national maternity hospital.

The business case for the national maternity hospital has also been subjected to the rigours of the updated public spending code. This included two additional independent expert reviews focused on issues such as cost, risk and ability to deliver the projects. The advices and learnings from those reviews have been integrated into the programme for the delivery of the national maternity hospital to mitigate, to the greatest extent possible, the risks and challenges arising in the delivery of major health infrastructure.

In July, the Cabinet approved the pre-tender business case for the new national maternity hospital. The procurement processes for the publication of a call for tenders are now well under way. After the process is complete, and prior to contract award, the updated final business case will be brought to Government for a decision to proceed based on the tender costs.


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