THE State's bad bank, Nama, was yesterday accused of rushing through the liquidation of Mount Carmel, as staff at the private maternity hospital launched a campaign to keep it open.
As up to 12 staff staged a sit-in at the south Dublin hospital yesterday in protest at its sudden liquidation, there was growing criticism of the how the State's bad bank handled its closure.
Nama tried to sell the private hospital after taking over the loans of its owner, a developer in financial difficulty. It has claimed it could not find a buyer, leading to the appointment of a liquidator by the High Court last Friday week.
The 300-plus staff will lose their jobs. A small number of them have formed a support group to keep the hospital open. One nurse told the Sunday Independent that staff at the private hospital first heard of the liquidation on the radio.
"The liquidator was appointed at 12. He was here at 12.30. At that stage the medical reps started arriving to reclaim their machinery," she said. "They were looking at taking everything back there and then. We had to stop them from removing equipment. We had a full list of patients that day. Staff were in shock. I believe patients' lives were put at risk."
The criticism was echoed by Alan Shatter, the Minister for Justice, who said on Friday that the treatment of staff was "brutal" and that the Government had no idea that a liquidator was going to be appointed.
Meanwhile, many of the 700 expectant mothers who were booked in to give birth at Mount Carmel are now expected to transfer to the Coombe.
Two obstetric consultants who lost their jobs with the closure of Mount Carmel were hired by the Coombe last week. Two other Mount Carmel consultants who treated patients between the Coombe and Mount Carmel will now revert full-time to the Coombe.
The Master of the Coombe, Dr Sharon Sheehan, said: "There are four consultants in Mount Carmel that were delivering maternity care and all four consultants will be operating from the Coombe."
She said about 700 mums were last Friday left without anywhere to have their babies and she believed think that the "vast majority of those" were likely to follow their consultants to the Coombe.
The first Mount Carmel mother was admitted to the Coombe on Friday, where she gave birth to a healthy baby boy shortly before lunchtime. On the same day, the last Mount Carmel babies were born at the private hospital, in the hours before its maternity services shut down.
Dr Sheehan said the hospital was delighted to be able to accommodate the Mount Carmel mums. The Coombe has opened a new state-of-the-art delivery suite, which was officially launched by the health minister on the same day that Mount Carmel was placed into liquidation.
The 300-plus staff at Mount Carmel completed their final shifts on Friday but a third of staff will remain in place for another two weeks to help wind up its business.
The last remaining patients are expected to be discharged on Thursday.
A statement from a group of protesting staff yesterday claimed Nama rejected an offer that was €2m less than the hospital's asking price.
"Why is this liquidation being rushed through?" the group asked. "The question is, who gains from the closure of Mount Carmel? Not the staff, not the patients, not the public health system, not the local community and not the taxpayer – so who?"
Nama declined to divulge its asking price for Mount Carmel. It took over the hospital a number of years ago and sources said the agency spent €10m supporting it.
According to sources, after it went on the market the agency had 49 approaches from parties interested in acquiring the hospital. There were five initial offers but only one of those proceeded to second-round offers. When the sales process was closed, a second potential buyer entered the fray with a "qualified" offer. "There were very low figures up front and performance-related payments afterwards," said a source.
The hospital has debts of €35m. Staff have been told they will be paid statutory redundancy, but may have to wait six months before they receive it. Expectant mothers who had paid their deposits for their private maternity, or paid for services they hadn't yet received, will have to apply to the liquidator to get their money back.
The closure of the hospital will also have a knock-on effect on public waiting lists. More than 2,000 patients were referred to Mount Carmel by public hospitals to ease waiting lists and many procedures will now have to be rescheduled.