Saturday 24 September 2016

Click to make huge difference to our children for next century

Putting the National Children's ­Hospital at St James's is a reckless ­mistake and must be halted, warns Dr Fin Breatnach

Dr Fin Breatnach

Published 14/02/2016 | 02:30

GAUNTLET: Dr Fin Breatnach has challenged Health Minister Leo Varadkar
GAUNTLET: Dr Fin Breatnach has challenged Health Minister Leo Varadkar

Are you aware that you have the ability to change the healthcare outcomes for the sick children of our country for at least the next 100 years? And to achieve that, all it will take is less than one minute of your time to add your signature to our message to Enda Kenny that St James's isn't good enough! Will you give that minute for them? Let me explain why I am asking you to do this.

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Many appallingly bad decisions have been made by successive governments over the last few decades which have cost us dearly - PPARS, voting machines, four instead of six lanes on the M50, the Red and Green lines of the Luas not connecting, Thornton Hall, etc. Our current Government is about to add to this litany of errors. Within a few years, we will close our three existing children's hospitals in Dublin and in their place build a single new National Children's Hospital. On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the birth of our State, we are perpetuating our shameful legacy. Children's voices are not being heard. We are repeating the mistakes of the past. And, unfortunately we are all collectively responsible by doing nothing and saying nothing.

This new hospital is supposed to meet the needs of our sickest children from the whole of Ireland for the next 100 years. If we allow institutional politics to prevail by building on the St James's site, children's needs won't be met for even the next 10 years. An Bord Pleanala has deferred the decision on the planning application for the new hospital on the St James's site. For more than 20 years now, the sickest children in the country have been promised a state-of-the-art national hospital. The government's first choice of site in 2006 was at the Mater Hospital - a preposterous choice by any standards, which cost the taxpayer about €40m. When An Bord Pleanala confirmed in 2012 what any child in the country could have told the Government - that the proposal was nonsensical - the Government's second choice was at St James's Hospital in Dublin city centre. Another ridiculous decision and a terrible mistake.

The proposed hospital is as high and much longer than Croke Park; this on a site that is already built on and will require major re-location of parts of the adult hospital, re-routing a major sewer at an estimated cost of €18m and causing major disruption for patients and staff. The site is surrounded by very narrow single-lane streets which create significant problems for ambulance access. The proposed parking provision would be the lowest of any recently built children's hospital anywhere in the world, significantly adding to parents' stress. If built at St James's, subsequent air pollution will exceed mandatory EU figures and the air quality guidelines of the World Health Organisation.

The Government claim that the reason the St James's site was chosen was that the clinical outcomes for the children would be improved if the new hospital was built next to the adult hospital. So the adult doctors at St James's, who have no training in caring for sick children, will make the children better. Such absolute rubbish!

No compelling clinical or planning reasons have ever been produced to support the choice of St James's - because none exist. I have repeatedly challenged Minister Varadkar and others to support this claim and they have failed to do so. One must ask 'Why?' Why will we allow future generations of children to be cheated? At this historic time shouldn't we, for once, put our children first?

The obvious location for the children's hospital is staring us in the face. The State owns the 145-acre site at Connolly Hospital off the M50. This parkland setting is ideal to serve the sickest children, 75pc of whom live outside the M50. Such space allows for easier access from all of Ireland, for extensive parking and will be quicker and cheaper to build. There will be space for future expansion - Crumlin increased in size by 75pc in the past 15 years, Toronto Children's Hospital doubled in size every 10 years since the 1950s.

The Government decision to co-locate the new Rotunda Maternity Hospital with the Adult Hospital at Connolly should be a game-changer which will deliver the best clinical outcomes for both mothers and children. Savings made by building the new hospital at Connolly would also fund the building of the maternity hospital at the same time. Failure to provide full maternity hospital co-location, something which cannot be guaranteed on the constrained St James's site, will inevitably result in the avoidable deaths of babies.

Dare we make a promise to our children? That we, as individuals and as a society, will stand up against the system that we are responsible for, and put children first.

You can make a difference by going to our petition website at www.connollyforkidshospital.com and by clicking on the Petition to Enda Kenny. Don't leave it to someone else - the children need you to speak for them!

Dr Fin Breatnach is a retired consultant paediatric oncologist and part of an independent umbrella organisation composed of parents, healthcare professionals, survivors of severe childhood illness, children's and parents' organisations, community groups and others.

Sunday Independent

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