Varadkar considers private funds for two new maternity hospitals
A mixture of public and private funding may be used to build two modern maternity hospitals in Dublin.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar has announced that the Cabinet has given the go-ahead to re-locate the Rotunda Hospital from the north inner city to the campus of Connolly Hospital in north-west Dublin.
The Coombe maternity hospital will be moved to a site next to St James's Hospital.
He said one of the methods of funding the facilities - which could cost around €150m each - will be public-private partnerships. "This has not been explored for hospitals yet. It has been done successfully for motorways," he pointed out.
The National Maternity Hospital is to move from Holles St to the site of St Vincent's Hospital and planning permission is due to be submitted shortly.
Mr Varadkar made the announcement with Labour leader and Tánaiste Joan Burton, both of whom have Connolly Hospital in their constituency.
It will also get one of the satellite centres linked to the new national children's hospital.
Asked if this could be seen as a political move, he said the suggestion has come from the Rotunda Hospital which is now part of the RCSI hospital group that includes Connolly.
"I had concerns how it might be perceived. But the public rarely rewards a promise of something, only when it is built. I don't see any extra votes in it for me or the Tánaiste."
Ms Burton said the three Dublin hospitals had given years of good service in their current outdated buildings but they are not suitable for modern maternity needs. "The Rotunda is moving to an area where a huge number of babies are being born," she added.
The minister said it could take 18 months to put together design teams and building would be unlikely to start until 2017 or 2018, taking three years to construct.
Rotunda master Sam-Coulter-Smith welcomed it as a positive move and a "real indication" that government is taking is issue of maternity services seriously.
It will mean that mothers who need acute hospital care will no longer have to separated from their babies.
Dr Sharon Sheehan, master of the Coombe said the plan has "immense potential" on the same campus as the new national children's hospital.
Bill Maher, chief executive of the RCSI group said "planning work will commence immediately" on the Rotunda project.
The Department of Health said it consulted widely to take account not only of the current attendance patterns at the hospitals but also looked to see how access for patients could be improved.
Those consulted included HSE Estates Division, HSE Intelligence, Health and Wellbeing Division, the Clinical Programme for Obstetrics and Gynaecology and the masters of the two maternity hospitals.