Seanad debates

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Commencement Matters

National Maternity Hospital

10:30 am

Photo of Maire DevineMaire Devine (Sinn Fein)
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Fáilte arís, an tAire Stait. This matter relates to the proposed new facility for the National Maternity Hospital and the lack of progress in recent years on its governance and ownership. I am asking for clarity regarding who will own the hospital or have influence and control over it. There is a lack of clarity and transparency about that, a tactic used frequently by the religious organisation that owns the land on which the new facility is being built. The National Maternity Hospital is being built by the State, so we will probably own the bricks. The project will cost at least €350 million and the facility will then be handed over to the Sisters of Charity order, which is a subsidiary of St. Vincent's Healthcare Group - a major shareholder in the project. The assurances from the religious order that it is giving up ownership of its hospitals or removing itself from the boards, and that it will not dictate the parameters of healthcare given two women in these hospitals, are not adequate. It is our National Maternity Hospital, it is not the religious order's hospital. We can go through the legacy of cruelty and torture by the religious orders, in collusion with this State, of women and children, and we will not take that any more. We have an opportunity to provide what the Sláintecare's report recommends, namely, universal healthcare without interference from private or vested interests or religious interests.

The ethos of the nuns disallows in vitrofertilisation, IVF, gender reassignment, abortion and other necessary procedures. They took the Minister, who asked the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, to inquire into the death of a 34 year old patient from an ectopic pregnancy, to court and won. HIQA is not allowed investigate that death. Despite all the reassurances from the religious orders, women do not believe them. We had the Uplift petition which yielded almost 120,000 signatures. Dr. Peter Boylan, a former master of the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, resigned saying he never thought this would happen again following the referendum. The Master of the Coombe Hospital resigned in the same vein. Fergus Finlay of Barnardos was aghast at what happened in this case. Women need to believe that they will be cared for and not judged, like Savita Halappanavar, on the basis of the religious ethos in a hospital. That needs to be gone from our healthcare system. We have had enough of that.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Devine. I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Harris.

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on this matter. The National Maternity Hospital, NMH, was originally established at Holles Street in 1894. The buildings have aged considerably over the years and, understandably, have accrued significant infrastructural problems which have impacted on the ability of the hospital to deliver clinical services. It is clear that the current hospital needs to be redeveloped.

The national maternity strategy reaffirms a commitment by Government to co-locate the remaining stand-alone maternity hospitals with adult acute services in order to provide mothers with access to a full range of medical and support services. The availability of these services helps to ensure the delivery of an optimum, safe service, particularly for high risk mothers and babies.

Against this background, the Government approved the NMH relocation project, which involves the development of a new maternity hospital on the campus of St Vincent’s University Hospital at Elm Park. The new hospital will be funded by the State and is included in Project Ireland 2040. This relocation project came to fruition following extensive mediation discussions led by Kieran Mulvey, which resulted in an agreement being reached between the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and the NMH on the relocation of the facility to the Elm Park campus. One of the guiding principles of the Mulvey agreement was the requirement for the protection of State investment and interests. It is vitally important that the legal and governance arrangements associated with this very significant State investment are robust.

Considerable work has been undertaken, therefore, to develop a legal framework to protect the State’s significant investment.This legal framework will underpin the operational and clinical independence of the new hospital, ensuring care in the new maternity hospital will be delivered without religious, ethnic or other distinction and any medical procedure which is in accordance with the laws of the land will be carried out there. The proposals will require consideration by Government, the National Maternity Hospital and the St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group before they are finalised.

I mentioned at the outset that the model of stand-alone maternity hospitals is not the norm internationally. Government policy is therefore to co-locate all remaining maternity hospitals with adult acute services in order to provide optimal clinical outcomes. In this context, it is proposed to relocate not only the National Maternity Hospital, but also University Maternity Hospital Limerick to University Hospital Limerick, Dooradoyle; the Rotunda Hospital to the Connolly Hospital campus in Blanchardstown; and the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital to St. James’s Hospital.

Photo of Maire DevineMaire Devine (Sinn Fein)
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Unfortunately that was not really an answer in respect of the governance and the concerns that have been expressed. The history of this hospital has been one of chaos, political fallout, and public outcry with regard to governance. Essentially it is a Catholic and private hospital. There is an idea to compulsorily purchase the land so that it would be truly national - it is called the National Maternity Hospital for a purpose - but it seems politicians are deaf to the concerns of the public they serve. One seat at the table for an extra public interest member is being proposed. The National Children's Hospital and Our Lady's Children's Hospital have granted and signed over the land, building and governance of the new national children's hospital to the State. There will be at least two patients' advocates on the board of that hospital. There will only be one on the very concentrated board of this hospital, which will be privately owned and religiously run and which will have that ethos. We are trying so hard in this country to get rid of that ethos and to shake off the shackles of religious influence over our health. The interests of the public and of women are not being served here. The response just does not cut the mustard.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State is unfortunately not the line Minister so maybe we can find another way to bring the issue up with the senior Minister. The Senator might write to him or raise the issue on the Order of Business when the Leader is present. The issue the Senator is pursuing does not seem to be adequately dealt with in the response because it is about the future location of the new hospital building. The Minister of State is not to blame for that.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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That is fine. I will just read the response I have been given by the Minister, Deputy Harris. I reaffirm to the House that the Minister's commitment is to this hugely important project and similarly his commitment is to ongoing progressive development of the maternity services in this country. The new national maternity hospital is a key strategy pillar in the development of those services. Substantial time and effort has been spent in ensuring that the State's significant investment is protected through robust legal and governance arrangements. The Minister is fully satisfied that the new company to be established, the National Maternity Hospital at Elm Park DAC, limited by shares, will have clinical and operational independence in the provision of maternity, gynaecology, and neonatal services as well as financial and budgetary independence. I will bring Senator Devine's concerns back to the Minister, Deputy Harris.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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That goes some way towards satisfying the Senator. I thank the Minister of State.