New National Maternity Hospital will take at least three years to build
It's the hospital that hears the welcome cries of 9,000 newborns every year. But nobody is willing to put a firm date on when the National Maternity Hospital will see its own much-needed rebirth in a new purpose-built facility.
Progress in moving the hospital from its archaic building on Holles Street in the inner city to a modern building on the campus of St Vincent's Hospital a few miles away remains slow.
However, the warning by inspectors from Hiqa this week about the dangers posed by the 19th Century hospital's overcrowding and risk of infection to frail newborns has underlined the pressing need for no more time to be lost.
The HSE said yesterday that the design process for the new hospital "will be concluded in the next few weeks".
A spokesman said planning permission would then have to be submitted. This would be followed by another stage of tendering and other processes.
The actual construction itself will take 36 to 42 months - at an estimated cost of €150m.
The HSE declined to say how soon it would be ready.
But it is likely to be 2020 if all steps go smoothly.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar expressed disappointment that the planning application had not as yet been submitted.
However, he said the money for the project was allocated in the capital plan.
He met with boards of the maternity hospital and St Vincent's Hospital in recent weeks and he is hopeful that the design process will be concluded in the next few weeks.
The maternity hospital estimates that it needs about €5m in funding for various upgrades and replacements between now and its eventual move.
It needs to update wards and its emergency facilities, as well as the outpatient department.
Since 2013, it has received €6.5m for capital works.
Most of this was spent on a new neonatal intensive care unit which Hiqa inspectors found caring for 46 babies last October, although it was only designed for 36.
With around 40,000 babies to be born there before it moves, Hiqa had insisted that the existing building cannot be left to languish because it will be seen as providing poor long-term investment and poor value for money.
There is also an onus on the St Vincent's Healthcare Group, which owns the site of the new hospital, not to put any further obstacles in the way of progressing the new hospital.
It has its own concerns and demands about how much say it will have in how the new hospital on its grounds will be governed and run.
A spokesperson for St Vincent's said that "discussions relating to various aspects of the proposed relocation" of the hospital were ongoing.
The project team is led by the HSE through its director of Estates Management.
The HSE insisted it would continue to "provide ongoing and significant funding for minor capital projects and priority works and clinical equipment replacement at the hospital".
But the extent of this investment still remains unclear.