Wednesday, 12 November 2014
National Children's Hospital
The health of our children and future generations is in our hands. It is important we do everything in our power to ensure the national children's hospital is built as soon as possible with as little cost to the Exchequer as possible. In light of the fact that planning permission will not be sought for a maternity hospital at the same time as the new national children's hospital, when will an application for planning permission for a maternity hospital be submitted?
The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, was in this House recently and there was a good debate. I mentioned that Dr. Finn Breathnach contacted me to say how vital it is that a specialist maternity hospital be co-located with the national children's hospital. The life of a baby could be at risk if he or she must be transferred by ambulance rather than pushed across a corridor to the national children's hospital.
The site at St. James's Hospital has become controversial. It is a brilliant adult hospital but we are trying to build a children's hospital in its car park. I hope the national children's hospital gets planning permission but I am worried because the board of that hospital has obviously told the Minister that there is insufficient time for architects to have plans ready in time to submit the two planning permission applications together.
What if we get planning permission for the national children's hospital but in a year's time fail to obtain planning permission for the national maternity hospital? It would be a complete mess. I am interested to hear the Minister of State's response.
I am taking the matter on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, but I have already dealt with it on foot of another question which was raised. It is a pertinent question. Not alone is it a pertinent question, but those of us with an interest in children's health are terribly worried about any other barrier being put in the way of the national children's hospital. We have had too many obstacles and need to push ahead.
As decided by the Government in November 2012, the new children's hospital will be co-located with St. James's Hospital in Dublin 8. The National Paediatric Hospital Development Board has responsibility for planning, designing, building and equipping the new hospital. A project brief has been approved and a design team is in place. The aim is to make a planning application in June 2015. The Government's intention is that a maternity hospital will be developed on the campus in the future, achieving tri-location of adult, paediatric and maternity services and providing comprehensive health-care services to drive improved clinical outcomes for children and mothers. The project brief for the children's hospital acknowledges this key policy recommendation and, accordingly, provides for consideration of future maternity hospital requirements in certain shared service areas. This will underpin future efficiencies in shared services.
Tri-location is consistent with the recommendations of the 2008 KPMG independent review of maternity and gynaecology services in the greater Dublin area. In 2008, the proposal in the report was that the National Maternity Hospital be relocated to St. Vincent's, the Coombe to Tallaght and the Rotunda to the Mater, achieving co-location of maternity and adult services in all cases and tri-location of adult, paediatric and maternity services at the Mater Hospital. With the decision to move the children's hospital to the St. James's campus, previous plans must be reviewed in respect of the Coombe and the Rotunda. The relocation of the National Maternity Hospital is already under way. That review is now being commenced and will be completed in early 2015. This is the first step in progressing the future tri-located maternity hospital.
As I stated last week in this House, the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board's planning experts have advised that, for a project of this scale, any planning permission application would require significant preparatory work. This, in the board's view, could not be done by June 2015. The Minister for Health has no intention of introducing a delay to the project by requesting the board to seek planning permission for a maternity hospital at this stage. The development board has advised that in submitting its planning application for the children's hospital it intends as a matter of good planning practice - and this is key and was stated in last week's answer - to provide full information on all known future developments for the St. James's campus, including the tri-located maternity hospital. This will enable An Bord Pleanála to consider the children's hospital planning application in the context of these future plans for the campus.
That is key. We have had the KPMG report since 2008, which is what makes this such a frustrating issue. However, letting An Bord Pleanála know that it is intended to apply for a maternity hospital on the site as well should allow it to do the pre-planning preparation that is needed. In an ideal world, the hospital would have been built by now, but it is not.
"Ideal world" is the correct phrase. The Dolphin report recommended that a master plan should be provided by whatever hospital was chosen. I have written to the Minister for Health and made a freedom-of-information request and the only master plan I could find from St. James's Hospital dated from 2008. It has never had a master plan including a maternity hospital.
We are all human beings and this is vital to the future. We all care so much about children and the future generations and we should be prepared at this stage to take a step back. I go back to St. James's, the idea of wasting time and the idea that the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, might consider swapping to Connolly hospital or Blanchardstown for a site. A media report yesterday said that Deputy Varadkar had written to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, to say he did not have the money to put the information technology systems into the children's hospital. The money is only sufficient to build it, not to kit it out. I have not spoken to him since I saw that. If we went to Connolly hospital, we would not only have the space for the maternity hospital, but the cost would be €500 million as opposed to €650 million. I remind the Minister of State that with St. James's Hospital, we started with a budget of €485 million and are up to €650 million now. It was admitted yesterday that we do not have anything in our budget.
The Minister of State is at the Cabinet table. Why can we not consider a move at this stage? St. James's Hospital has 200,000 tonnes of soil and grit to be removed, which is 10,000 lorry loads. It will take nine months before building can even begin and that is after the planning permission has been obtained. The site is rife with problems and there are signs that we should take a step back and look at the more cost-effective site, which is the greenfield site where we know the space exists now and for future expansion. Whether it is in Texas or Toronto, they have doubled their children's hospitals in size in every decade since they were built. I thank the Acting Chairman for her patience.
Having looked at the lack of progress on a national paediatric hospital, there is a terror in saying one will move again given the possible delays it could cause. I understand what the Senator is saying but I have an awful fear of further delay. We will not be completed in any event until 2019. I do not believe the equipping of the hospital will be an issue at that stage. Hopefully, the economy will have recovered sufficiently. Everyone involved in the project has an awful dread of moving again.
The Minister of State was probably looking forward to having the Mater children's hospital built but that planning permission got turned down. I hope I am incorrect in my worries and anxiousness that St. James's will be turned down by An Bord Pleanála. God help us all if that happens.