Cabinet row as children's hospital goes to St James's
Published 07/11/2012 | 05:00
THE final decision to pick St James’s as the site of the new children’s hospital sparked a row at Cabinet, the Irish Independent has learned.
There was a rift at the top level of Government, with some ministers annoyed at not getting the information about the process until the last minute.
They were also furious that the decision had been widely leaked in advance.
There were concerns about not choosing a greenfield site – namely James Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown – which local TDs Joan Burton and Leo Varadkar both supported.
But after an hour-long debate, ministers agreed with the St James’s decision by consensus – there was no vote.
Contrary to speculation that the new facility would be built on the Coombe Hospital lands, it will be on a site on the St James’s campus, adjacent to the existing adult hospital.
As well as winning the medical arguments, St James's beat the Mater Hospital on planning grounds.
Transport links played an important part in the decision but the Government now faces a series of planning hurdles which must be overcome.
Health Minister Dr James Reilly has already admitted that there is now no chance of the project being finished by the original deadline of 2016.
The new site falls short of the medical ideal of tri-location, whereby an adult, children's and maternity hospital are all part of a near network.
Cabinet sources said a number of ministers raised "the question of the greenfield site and the concerns over James's".
Ms Burton and Mr Varadkar -- who both represent Dublin West, where Connolly Hospital is located -- put a case for the greenfield site in Blanchardstown.
"Both of them said it wasn't a constituency point of view," a minister said. But another minister dismissed their views as being purely motivated by a desire to be seen to be speaking up for a project in their constituency, commenting: "Everyone knew they were doing it for local consumption."
There was anger from several ministers over the dissemination of information and the manner in which the decision was reported in the media before it was brought to the Cabinet.
Health Minister Dr James Reilly was not held responsible for the leaks, with the finger of blame pointing squarely at Government Buildings.
A government source said: "I don't have to name the person responsible for last year's budget decisions being leaked. In fairness to Reilly, he had it (the Dolphin report) for months. But others were busy."
Dr Reilly gave a presentation on the various options and explained why he believed St James's was the best option.
The opinion of John Martin and Simon Clear, the two planning experts on the Dolphin Group, were regarded as particularly influential in convincing ministers that the St James's site would get planning permission. It meets the main criterion of locating the children's hospital near to an adult teaching hospital.
There are no current plans to build a maternity hospital on the site, although there is space for this if a future government should give the go-ahead. The Coombe maternity hospital is an eight-minute walk away.
Mr Martin and Mr Clear looked at the pros and cons of different sites and said they believed the new hospital could be open to patients by 2018 if it passes planning hurdles.
The hospital, which will be based on a new design, will be located on an expanded site in the south inner-city campus, although it has been described as still having a "moderate" planning risk.
The two planners said there would be room to build a maternity hospital on the site in time if it is given the go ahead.
Dr Reilly said the children's hospital could possibly be ready by the end of 2017 or early 2018.
The Dolphin review said the St James's site had "excellent public-transport services", including a Luas stop.
It also said a higher percentage of children in Dublin live within a 10km radius of St James's than live within 10km of any other potential site.
Dr Reilly said the new children's hospital would be a "beacon for all of us" in terms of paediatric healthcare.
He said that of the €39m already spent on planning and designing the Mater site option, around €13m of this, mainly design work, could be carried over to the new site.
Asked why the Mater site had been rejected, he said: "The planning risk at the Mater is just too high (due to) the cramped size of the site."
It is envisaged that the hospital will cost at least €500m to build, with €200m of this coming from the National Lottery.
Last night, strong divisions emerged between doctors on the location. The medical board of Temple Street Hospital, which supported the Mater bid, expressed strong disappointment and will meet in emergency session today.
The Mater and Rotunda hospitals also issued a joint statement, saying the children's hospital could have been delivered by 2016 if it had remained in the Mater -- and not the 2018 timeline for the new location.
Businessman Harry Crosbie, chairman of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, the state board tasked with building the hospital, said he would stay on in his role.
He rejected criticism that the board had contributed to the Mater losing its position as a site for the children's hospital.
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