DOCTORS have stepped up pressure on the Government to build a maternity facility next to the forthcoming National Children's Hospital amid claims that its absence could put infants' lives at risk.
The new campaign has emerged in the wake of the decision to locate the new hospital in the grounds of St James's Hospital in Dublin.
Health Minister James Reilly has said that although there is space on the site, the Government does not have the funds to build a new maternity hospital nearby at this stage.
The Coombe maternity hospital is near St James's Hospital in the south inner city, but the plan stops short of the ideal scenario of having a tri-located network of adult, children's and maternity hospitals all on the one campus.
However, the doctors who chair the medical boards in the three existing children's hospitals of Temple Street, Crumlin and Tallaght -- all of which will move to the new facility in 2018 -- wrote to Dr Reilly yesterday, saying that he needs to "proceed without delay to build a maternity hospital on the site".
Earlier, the board of Temple Street, which had supported the Mater site, met in emergency session to express its disappointment at the choice of St James's.
However, in a significant move, it said Temple Street -- which yesterday marked its 140th anniversary -- would be ready to back the construction of the hospital at the new site.
The board said it "is most anxious to actively engage in the process". The message of co-operation is good news for those trying to progress the new hospital.
It said it was pleased that a decision on the site had been finally reached, but was concerned by the lack of a guarantee that a maternity hospital would be built alongside the new facility.
The New Children's Hospital Alliance, a group led by retired paediatricians, has claimed that some infants who need to be transferred from a maternity hospital to an intensive care unit in a children's hospital could die if they are too ill to travel in an ambulance.
This underlined the need to build the new children's hospital and a maternity unit next to each other, they said.
Dr Roisin Healy, a former paediatrician at Crumlin Hospital, said: "Undoubtedly, some children will die because they are too ill to be moved in an ambulance. Why put children at risk if they don't need to be?"
Around 500 seriously ill infants have to be transferred to intensive care in a children's hospitals annually, she added.
Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, master of the Rotunda maternity hospital, who supported the Mater said: "Although they've left the door open for a maternity service to be provided on the site at some point in the future, it's not in the plan.
"So by the time this institution opens, we're not going to have a truly tri-located health facility. And this, of course, was what the grand plan was."