At last Ireland is going to give its sick children the care they deserve
We have talked for many years about the need for a new state-of-the-art, world-class National Children's Hospital. It has been a topic of debate since I was a medical student.
Today is a major milestone on the road to realising that vision. This afternoon, a planning application will be submitted to An Bord Pleanála for the new hospital, along with parent accommodation and academic and research buildings, on a shared campus with St James's, as well as two out-patient and urgent care satellite centres at Blanchardstown and Tallaght. It is the culmination of a year-long design process involving a huge amount of consultation.
The project has had a tortuous history, as most people will know. With this planning application, I hope we will be able to leave that history where it belongs, get on with and get behind this vitally important project.
The new children's hospital will bring together the three existing children's hospitals, with their proud traditions and reputations earned from years of providing excellent healthcare for our children - Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin; Temple Street Children's University Hospital and the National Children's Hospital at Tallaght.
Our goal is that Ireland should provide the best possible healthcare to our children and young people. As with all centres of excellence, achieving scale and critical mass on a single campus will improve survival and recovery rates for children.
This is in accordance with international best practice. That's why tri-location is of such critical importance.
St James's Hospital - the county's largest teaching hospital, offering unrivalled clinical services in addition to an internationally recognised research and education culture is the best-suited to deliver.
In June, I announced that the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital will also relocate to the St James's campus. Planning for that will begin shortly.
The new children's hospital will be at the centre of a new Model of Care for paediatrics in Ireland. It will provide secondary care to the children and young people of the greater Dublin area and specialist care to the sickest children and young people from all over Ireland, including Northern Ireland.
Two satellite centres will provide secondary care to children and young people in Connolly Hospital (Blanchardstown) and Tallaght Hospital and the same care will be provided regionally in Cork, Limerick and Galway. Children and young people throughout Ireland can expect the same high level of care throughout the country and, where clinically appropriate, they will be treated as close to home as possible.
The buildings have been designed to ensure that children and young people are treated in the best organised and most suitable setting. In the main hospital at St James's, there will be 380 single rooms, all en-suite bathrooms and a parent's bed. There will be 93 daycare bays, 18 operating theatres and 122 consulting rooms in total.
There will be lots of outdoor space too. The rooftop garden is a central feature of the really stunning design and it will provide a secure and sheltered environment adjacent to the wards. There is room for future expansion.
Parking spaces will be allocated to every in-patient and families will be able to reserve a parking space in advance.
As St James's campus is centrally located and has more infrastructure connection than any other hospital in Ireland via bus, train and Luas, public transport is a very viable option, so journeys are not exclusively car-dependent, especially for staff.
The submission of a planning application today is a significant step forward.
An Bord Pleanála will now consider the application over the coming months. Subject to their decision, we can be on site in early 2016.
I can think of no better way to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising than to begin construction of the new hospital on one of the sites of the rebellion, the South Dublin Union recalling the Proclamation's promise to "cherish all of the children" of our nation.
The children who attend there from 2019 onwards will probably be alive to see the hundredth anniversary of the new hospital and the two-hundredth anniversary of the rising.
It is that sort of project - iconic, generational, awesome. You can judge for yourself by going online at www.newchildrenshospital.ie to look at the plans.
Leo Varadkar is the Health Minister